“The Franchise” Steve Francis was one of the most electric and sneaky great players in the early 2000s, but his hype never managed to get recognized or remembered to this day like with some other star players. But for a particular time, while playing for the Houston Rockets, Francis was considered one of the best guards in the NBA, and with good reason.
The impact of Yao Ming
He was an All-Star starter in 2002, but Francis missed a lot of time that season because of injuries, which resulted in the Rockets finishing with a 28-54 record. On the bright side, that gave them a shot at the #1 pick, which ended up being Yao Ming.
Francis recently went on The Players Tribune talking with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles on the Knuckleheads Podcast and shared how it was playing with Yao Ming and how he impacted the game globally:
“I think that, for me, was the closest I have ever been to seeing a rockstar… For me, it taught me to be calm and to be patient because this man has a whole country who is depending on him to take care of their country – to be the initiator, to break the barrier for a sport they all love over there. If you go to China, you see all kids on the court, everywhere, day and night trying to emulate some basketball players. But for him to take that big step, you know I was happy for him just to see that...But I’m gonna tell you man, one day I took him to a club here in Houston, they couldn’t believe it was– of course it was Moochie [Norris]’s idea. Oh my gosh.”
Steve Francis, Knuckleheads Podcast
Yao was transcendent in a lot of ways. Coming from China, being the country's hero and having the size that he had. He was something we had never seen before in the NBA. And that brought a lot of attention to him and the Rockets. That also helped Francis with his popularity, as he was the star on the team, the whole county of China was watching on a nightly basis.
Yao and Francis became really close friends
Francis also talked about how he was surprised by Yao’s calmness in his rookie year, even though the media created a frenzy around him. Yao especially showed that when he stood his ground in his first game versus Shaq. He ended up with ten points, ten rebounds, and six blocks. That game made the best big man in the league respect Yao. In that same game, Francis scored 44 points and boosted his popularity up.
Those Rockets had excellent chemistry and a family-type atmosphere within the group, resulting in Francis and Yao being named starters in the 2003 All-Star game. They would end up with a 43-39 record, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make the stacked Western Conference’s playoffs.
The next year their coach Rudy Tomjanovich was replaced with Jeff Van Gundy, whose playstyle didn’t suit Francis’s style, making his number drop. The Rockets would manage to make the playoffs, but only to lose to the favorite Lakers in 5 games.
After that season, Francis got traded to the Magic, as the Rockets decided to go in another direction. But that didn’t stop Steve Francis from being named the “The Franchise” during his tenure in Houston, as he ended up averaging 19.3 points, 6.4 assists, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.63 steals in 374 games during his five year stretch with the Rockets.