Every championship team has a player that’s a no stats all star, someone who does the little things that don’t show up in the box score. Robert Horry crafted a memorable career out of being in the right place at the right time, making smart plays, and of course making clutch shots in big games.
Horry never made an all star team, but he was an integral part of 7 championship teams. The most of any player who never played in the 1960′s. While you can’t call him a legend individually, he made invaluable contributions to legendary teams and crafted a reputation as one of the best clutch shooters ever.
Winning is contagious. The qualities associated with it go beyond talent and even coaching. Its the intangibles that define winning at the highest levels, and Robert Horry was a master of intangibles. He could play both forward positions, was a clutch shooter, good rebounder, and smart help side defender. His ego was such he was secure enough to come off the bench yet confident enough to take crunch time shots – and make them.
Rare is the player who becomes a star as a role player and remains content to maintain that role throughout their career.
Horry came into the NBA as the 11th pick in the 1992 draft after winning 3 SEC tournament titles and reaching two Sweet Sixteens at Alabama. The Houston Rockets inserted him into their starting lineup and he proved valuable for the surging Rockets, using his length and quickness to be a disruptive defender. It was in his second year, however, that his legend began to take shape.
The Rockets won back to back championships with Horry making dramatic contributions including a dominant performance in the 1995 Finals. Horry made the game winning shot in game 1, along with 19 pts, 8 rebs, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 5 blocks. The next game he set a NBA record of 7 steals to go with 10 rebounds and 11 points. In Game 3 he poured in 20 pts, 9 rebs, 4 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. In the series clincher he finished with 21 pts, 13 rebs(5 offensive), and 5 assists.
With the strong performances of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, Horry’s performance was overlooked but his type of contribution was given a moniker “A Robert Horry Game”. That came to be defined as a clutch performance by a non star.
The confounding aspect to Horry is that you can’t say he was a good shooter, at least not technically speaking. He had 6 seasons in which he shot less than 40 percent from the field for the regular season, and 9 years shooting less than 42 percent from the field. He was the definition of streaky. Yet his skill set was so unique that he found numerous ways to beat you.
He was the first “3 and d” player that has become so en vogue nowadays, being the first player ever in NBA history to make 100 3′s and have 100 steals and 100 blocks in a season (1995-96). His size and wingspan allowed him to be effective as a weakside shotblocker, as an offensive rebounder, and in the passing lanes.
After four successful years as a starting small forward in Houston, he was traded for Charles Barkley and struggled mightily with the Phoenix Suns. He even clashed with Head Coach Danny Ainge and was considered a locker room cancer for the struggling, rebuilding Suns.
In this circumstance we got to understand what made Horry an excellent complimentary player and why he was never destined to be an individual star. He was most effective alongside dominant big men. His open looks usually came from his man dropping down to help. His productivity came mostly because he was an afterthought and defenses often left him. On the Suns, a team devoid of any big men of note, his flaws were exposed.
Luckily for him – and the Lakers, a trade was in the offing.
Horry was moved to the power forward slot for the 1997-1998 season and while still a starter, he slid into the role that would define his career. Over time he was moved to a reserve role and his regular season production plummeted to the point you could question his usefulness. Under Phil Jackson, his shooting and defense became invaluable during the playoffs. As the Lakers marched towards the Finals in 2000, Horry’s championship credentials came forward. A 17 pt performance in game 4 of the 2000 Finals, continued his legacy as a clutch performer.
A 15 point performance in Game 3 of the 2001 NBA Finals, including the game winning shot, continued to grow the legend of “Big Shot Bob”.
Then came the 2002 playoffs.
The Lakers were seeking a 3 peat and faced a Sacramento Kings team in the Conference Finals,that had the NBA’s best record that season, and was a tough matchup for the aging champion. Horry had 18 pts, 8 rebs, 3 assists, and 4 steals in game 1, had 20 rebounds in game 2, and dropped 18 points and made a miraculous game winning 3 pointer in game 4. A miss would have made the series 3-1 in favor of the Kings. Horry literally saved the Lakers’ title hopes.
But he wasn’t finished yet.
In game 7 on the road in Sacramento, Robert Horry had 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists to help the team overcome a great Kings team. His performance in that series was the difference between a 3 peat and the end of an era. He had secured his place in Lakers’ lore.
After another season in Los Angeles, Horry moved to the San Antonio Spurs. Once again he paced himself through the regular season and during the 2005 playoffs again burst out with incredible performances. In game 5 of the Finals with the series tied at 2, and the game in Detroit, Horry delivered with 21 points including the game winning 3 pointer.
In game 7, he scored 15 and won his 6th title. It would mark the end of his heroics but as his career ended, he had accumulated 7 championships with 3 teams and had made huge contributions in the biggest moments for all of those teams.
A murmur turned into a loud open conversation.
Was Horry a Hall of Famer?
If so, it would open up a whole slew of questions about what determines inclusion in the Hall. Was it individual statistics? Or maybe winning?
The Hall of Fame is a story of the NBA, through the profiles of the players and coaches who shaped its history. Can you tell the story of the NBA from 1992 to 2008 without discussing Robert Horry?
No you can’t and therefore he deserves to be in.
A player with a career average of 7 points is one of the best playoff performers we’ve ever witnessed. Its maddening, confusing, and amazing all in one.