Rudy Tomjanovich is a former American basketball player and noted coach of the ‘Houston Rockets’ team. He is a five-time ‘NBA All-Star’ Forward, a brilliant coach who led his team to two consecutive ‘NBA’ championships and an Olympic Games gold medal winning coach. He started his career as a college basketball player in the late 1960s and was drafted for the ‘San Diego Rockets’ (later became ‘Houston Rockets’) where he spent his entire playing career. He soon became a star player for the team, but an almost deadly on-court incident led to the end of his career. Thereafter, he became an assistant coach, moving up to the head coach of ‘Houston Rockets’ position in the ‘90s. After struggling with cancer, he left the franchise. He also led the U.S. men’s team to a gold medal in the ‘2000 Summer Olympic Games’. Despite such an impressive career, he has been constantly snubbed for a place in the ‘Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’. But he has several other achievements to his name. He now lives a quiet life with his family.
Childhood & Early Life
Rudolph Tomjanovich Jr. was born on November 24, 1948, in Hamtramck, Michigan, USA, to parents of Croatian descent. His father was reportedly often unemployed due to chronic back pain, and the family survived on welfare.
He grew up in the Hamtramck neighbourhood, where he went to ‘Hamtramck High School’ and learnt to play basketball in the streets.
In 1967, he joined the ‘University of Michigan’ on scholarship. He was part of the ‘Michigan Wolverines’ men's basketball team, where he set an unbeaten record for rebounds.
In 1968, he got the second team ‘All-Big Ten’ honors. From 1969-70, he earned the first-team honours while still a part of the ‘Michigan Wolverines’.
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In 1970, the ‘San Diego Rockets’ selected Rudy Tomjanovich as the second pick in the ‘NBA’ draft. The franchise moved to Houston the next year to become ‘Houston Rockets’.
In 1972, he led the charge in scoring points for his team and soon became an ‘NBA All-Star’, an honour that he would continue to hold for four consecutive seasons.
He stayed with the ‘Houston Rockets’ for the entire duration of his playing career spanning 11 years, and became the third leading scorer in the history of the team.
In an infamous incident in December 1977, he was punched in the face by Kermit Washington of ‘Los Angeles Lakers’ when trying to be the peacekeeper in an on-court scuffle. The blow inflicted near-fatal injuries on his head and face, keeping him away from the court for several months.
In 1978, he made a comeback to the ‘Houston Rockets’ and was an ‘All-Star’ again by the next year.
In 1981, fed up of sitting on the bench and battling injuries, he retired from the team, and became a college and pro teams scout for two years.
In 1983, he returned to the ‘Houston Rockets’ in the capacity of assistant coach.
In 1992, he replaced the head coach, Don Chaney, as the interim coach of the team.
In the 1992-93 season, he was promoted to head coach and in his unique easy-going style that made him the player’s coach, coach’s coach and an all-round respected team member, he steered the team to win the ‘Midwest Division’ for the first time in seven years.
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From 1994-95, he guided the ‘Houston Rockets’ to two consecutive ‘NBA Championship’ wins.
In 1998, despite a ‘NBA’ player strike, he led a haphazardly created U.S. men's senior basketball team to a bronze medal in the ‘FIBA World Championship’ held in Greece.
He followed it up with a gold medal for the national team in the ‘2000 Summer Olympic Games’ held in Sydney.
During the 2002-03 season, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and retired as the coach of ‘Houston Rockets’.
By 2004, he had recovered from cancer and signed a multi-million contract as the coach of ‘Los Angeles Lakers’. But the stress of the game and his ill health caused him to leave after a few games.
In 2006, he became the ‘Director of Scouting’ for the USA men’s basketball team.
Even though he has an impressive career both as a player and a coach, he has constantly been snubbed from being inducted in the ‘Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’.
In 1997, he released his autobiography ‘A Rocket at Heart: My Life and My Team.’
Awards & Achievements
In 1970, he earned the ‘NCAA All-American’ honour.
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From 1974-77, he continuously earned the ‘All-Star’ honour.
In 1979, he again earned the ‘All-Star’ honour and was inducted in the ‘Michigan Sports Hall of Fame’.
In 1998, he earned a bronze medal as the head coach of the USA men’s basketball team at the ‘1998 FIBA World Championship’.
In 2000, he earned a gold medal as the head coach of the USA men’s basketball team at the ‘2000 Summer Olympics’.
In 2010, the ‘Rudy Tomjanovich Award’ was started to honour ‘NBA’ coaches for professional behaviour on the court and with the media.
In September 2019, it was announced that he would be honoured with an induction in the ‘Houston Sports Hall of Fame’ in early 2020.
Family & Personal Life
In 1970, he married Sophie Migas from Hamtramck. The couple has a son and two daughters.
He supports the cancer research cause of ‘Texas Children's Cancer Center’.
He currently lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.
His jerseys always read ‘Rudy T.’ because his last name was too long to fit on the back of the jerseys.
Both the ‘University of Michigan’ and ‘Houston Rockets’ have retired his ‘#45’ jersey.
He has coined the famous statement ‘Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion’.