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The story of the original NBA unicorn

A one of a kind player that could have been one of the greatest if not for the injuries
Ralph Sampson

Ralph Sampson

The word unicorn in the NBA world resembles something unique and never seen before. There have been a few guys in recent history like Kristaps Porzingis or Giannis Antetokounmpo to get that label, but the original unicorn came into the NBA in the 1980s. His name is Ralph Sampson.

Athlete ahead of his time

Ever since his high school days, Ralph Sampson was regarded as a basketball super-talent and the future of basketball. At 7'4'', with the athletic ability, quickness, soft hands, and high basketball IQ, Sampson presented the whole package at an unbelievable size. Something never seen quite before from a big man.

In his four years at the University of Virginia, Sampson would dominate the NCAA courts and rightfully earn the right to be the #1 pick of the 1983 NBA Draft. The Houston Rockets were the lucky winner, and they immediately put all their chips into Sampson.

The unique playstyle and size would translate well to the NBA, and Sampson would quickly become one of the star big men in the league. The first four seasons were the best of Ralph's career. He would make the All-Star team four times, win the ROY award, All-Star Game MVP, and an All-NBA selection. In his five seasons in Houston, Sampson would average 19.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, and 1.6 bpg.

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When the Rockets drafted Olajuwon in 1984, it would make for one of the most iconic frontlines in NBA history, rightly so nicknamed the "Twin Towers." The combination of two huge big men with such quickness and skill presented a tough challenge for everyone at that time. The most memorable moment of that Rockets team would happen in the 1986 WCF when they bounced out Magic's Lakers with an unbelievable turnaround buzzer from Sampson.

For his 7'4'' size, Sampson could take the ball coast to coast or even initiate the offense from the top, something only seen from guards at that time. It was exciting and unique to see, but unfortunately, the start of Sampson's career was also the peak. After five years in Houston, Sampson would bounce around and play for the Warriors, Kings, and Bullets with a much smaller production before eventually retiring in 1992 at only 31 years old.

The constant injuries took Sampson away from the court and stripped him away of his amazing athletic ability, cutting this promising career short of its glory. If you are still unsure about how good Sampson was, here are a few quotes from some of the biggest legends in the game.

"Even Michael Jordan wasn't as big in college. In my generation, Ralph was the first great college superstar."

Charles Barkley, NBA

"Ralph Sampson changed the NBA. There have never been any big men quite like Ralph Sampson."

Magic Johnson, NBA

"Things that he could do would mesmerize a lot of people. Being able to shoot that hook just like Kareem, turn around and shoot the jump shot just like Bird, put it on the floor, take it the length of the floor, and dunk on you. I mean, he could do a lot of things."

Patrick Ewing, NBA

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