Ralph Sampson
Sampson in 2010
Personal information
Born (1960-07-07) July 7, 1960 (age 63)
Harrisonburg, Virginia, U.S.
Listed height7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)
Listed weight228 lb (103 kg)
Career information
High schoolHarrisonburg (Harrisonburg, Virginia)
CollegeVirginia (1979–1983)
NBA draft1983: 1st round, 1st overall pick
Selected by the Houston Rockets
Playing career1983–1995
PositionCenter / power forward
Career history
As player:
19831987Houston Rockets
19871989Golden State Warriors
19891991Sacramento Kings
1991–1992Washington Bullets
1992Unicaja Ronda
1994–1995Rockford Lightning
As coach:
1992–1993James Madison (assistant)
1999–2000Richmond Rhythm
2012–2013Phoenix Suns (assistant)
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points7,039 (15.4 ppg)
Rebounds4,011 (8.8 rpg)
Blocks752 (1.6 bpg)
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at NBA.com
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at Basketball-Reference.com
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2011
Representing  United States
Men's basketball
Pan American Games
Gold medal – first place 1979 San Juan Team competition

Ralph Lee Sampson Jr. (born July 7, 1960) is an American former professional basketball player. He is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. A 7-foot-4-inch (2.24 m) phenom, three-time college national player of the year, and first overall selection in the 1983 NBA draft, Sampson brought heavy expectations with him to the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The NBA Rookie of the Year, Sampson averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds for his first three seasons with the Houston Rockets before injuries began to take their toll. Three knee surgeries later, after 12 seasons in professional basketball, he retired in 1995 as a four-time NBA All-Star and the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the 1985 NBA All-Star Game.

Early life

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Sampson was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to Sarah and Ralph Sampson, Sr. He was already 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) tall by ninth grade, reaching 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) in high school. He averaged nearly 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots as a senior (after averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore, and 19 points and 17 rebounds as a junior), at Harrisonburg High, leading the team to state AA basketball championships in 1978 and 1979. His senior year he lost the high school player of the year award to another talented center, Sam Bowie. However, he did get a form of revenge against Bowie, outplaying him in the Capital Classic, getting 23 points and 21 rebounds with 4 blocks in a game styled "Battle of the Giants".

College career

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Sampson was arguably the most heavily recruited college basketball prospect of his generation and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated six times in a span of fewer than four years (December 17, 1979; December 1, 1980; March 30, 1981; November 29, 1982; December 20, 1982; and October 31, 1983).

Playing center for the University of Virginia, he led the Cavaliers to an NIT title in 1980, an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1981, and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in 1983. He earned three Naismith Awards as the National Player of the Year, only the second athlete to do so (Bill Walton was the first), and a pair of Wooden Awards. Sampson considered leaving Virginia after his junior year and declaring for the 1982 NBA draft. The San Diego Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers would flip a coin to determine who would draft first overall, but the deadline for Sampson to make himself available came before the scheduled coin flip. Rather than risk playing for the Clippers (who ended up losing the toss), Sampson stayed in school.[1]

Professional career

Houston Rockets (1983–1987)

With his size and agility, Sampson was expected to revolutionize the center position with expectations to previous legends at the position from Wilt Chamberlain to Bill Russell when he reached the National Basketball Association.[2] The Houston Rockets picked him first overall in the 1983 NBA draft.[3] As a rookie, he averaged 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds, played in the All-Star Game, and won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.[4]

The Rockets managed only a 29–53 record in 1983–84, which qualified them to pick first in the 1984 NBA draft. Houston selected fellow center Hakeem Olajuwon out of the University of Houston. Many observers criticized the Rockets' choice, believing the two 7-footers (known as the Twin Towers) would not be effective playing together, while others thought the combination could be overpowering. Sampson, playing a new style of power forward, had new expectations placed upon him. At the time, Dallas Mavericks Coach Dick Motta said, "That front line, when history is written when they've grown up, might be the best-assembled on one team. Ever." Houston guard John Lucas said of Sampson's move to forward, "He'll revolutionize the game."[5]

In 1984–85, the Rockets improved by 19 games to 48–34 and made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Sampson had his best individual campaign, averaging 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds and earning a berth on the All-NBA Second Team. He and Olajuwon both played in the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, and Sampson, after scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, earned the game's MVP Award.[6] On March 5, 1985, in a loss against the Denver Nuggets, Sampson recorded 30 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 steals and was the first player in NBA history to record at least 30 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals since the league started recording steals.[7]

The next season Houston won the Midwest Division with a 51–31 record. Sampson experienced his first scare with injury during a game on March 24, 1986, when an attempt to grab a rebound against the Boston Celtics saw him land awkwardly with his head driven into the court. He had a severely bruised back and missed three games. In total, he averaged 18.9 points with 11.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 79 total games that season. In the playoffs, the Rockets swept the Sacramento Kings, but faced a stiffer challenge against Alex English and the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Semi-Finals, eventually winning the series 4–2, with the sixth and deciding game going to double overtime. Against the defending champion Lakers in the Conference Finals, the Rockets were ready to knock off their rivals who had the best of them during the season. The Rockets lost game 1, but the Rockets fought back, winning four straight to take the series four games to one. In Game 5 of that series, Sampson provided one of the most memorable moments in NBA Playoff history.[8] With the score tied at 112, Olajuwon having earlier been ejected, and with only one second remaining on the clock, Sampson took an inbounds pass and launched a twisting turnaround jumper that bounced twice, and went through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Rockets a 114–112 victory and a shocking series upset.

In the NBA Finals, the Rockets faced the Boston Celtics. Boston sportswriters were not happy about not getting revenge against the Lakers who had beaten the Celtics in the Finals the year before, but the matchup was interesting with the young frontcourt challenging the old guard of the Celtics. During the season at the Boston Garden, the Rockets were playing the Celtics well until Sampson suffered a jarring fall on his back. At the start of the Finals, Sampson quickly found himself in foul trouble early in Game 1 as Boston easily went up 2-0 going back to Houston. The Rockets won a close Game 3 under the leadership of Sampson. Game 4 also went down to the wire with the Celtics pulling it out on late Larry Bird 3-pointer heroics and untimely turnovers by Rockets guard Mitch Wiggins. In a similarly close Game 5 in Houston (under the 2–3–2 format), Sampson succumbed to taunting by Boston's much smaller 6-foot-1 backup guard Jerry Sichting, resulting in Sampson taking a swing and earning an ejection from the game. Strangely, this fired up the Rockets, who won Game 5 by 15 points without him thanks to the inspired play of Olajuwon, Jim Petersen, and Robert "Bobby Jo" Reid. Game 6 went back to Boston with Sampson finding himself again in foul trouble and of little effect against the older and wiser Celtic frontcourt of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. After the series, Boston coach KC Jones called the Rockets "the new monsters on the block", with the future looking very bright for the Rockets. During the six-game championship series loss against the Celtics, Sampson averaged 14.8 points on .438 shooting, 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.[9]

In 1987, Sampson signed a $14.4 million contract for six years with the Rockets.[10] Sampson made the All-Star team in the 1986-87 season, but he played in just 43 games that year. On February 4, 1987, he suffered a major cartilage tear in his left knee against the Denver Nuggets, which happened when his right foot slipped. He wore a knee brace and tried to play on it but left the game soon after. There were reports of him having slipped due to remnants of solvent used to clean off scuffs done on the court by a drill team practicing their show before the game. Sampson was expected to miss six weeks.[11] He had arthroscopic surgery and rushed his rehab to make it back for the playoffs, a decision he has stated his regret over.[12] In total, he had averaged 15.6 points with 8.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists while only starting in 32 games. That year, the Rockets made it to the Conference Semifinals, with Sampson appearing in each playoff game and averaging over 30 minutes a game, which saw him average over 15 points with eight rebounds. However, the Rockets lost in six games to the Seattle SuperSonics.

Nineteen games into the 1987-88 season, he was traded from the Rockets. He had averaged 15.9 points with 9.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists when he was traded on December 12, 1987 to the Golden State Warriors alongside reserve Steve Harris for Joe Barry Carroll, Sleepy Floyd, and cash; like Sampson, Carroll and Floyd had been NBA All-Stars in 1987.[13]

Golden State Warriors (1987–1989)

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Injured halfway into the 1987–88 season, Sampson fell out of favor with Rockets Coach Bill Fitch and was traded, along with guard Steve Harris, to the Golden State Warriors for Eric "Sleepy" Floyd and Joe Barry Carroll, with Warriors general manager Don Nelson and coach George Karl believing that Sampson would be a key center threat for a team that was looking to build upon their 42-win season the previous year and reach their second straight postseason after a ten-year drought.

He played in 29 games for the Warriors while averaging 15.4 points with ten rebounds and 2.9 assists, but he was bothered by his left knee again, which required fluid to be drained out of it that made it less strong than his right knee; the Warriors won just 20 games that year. The following year, he played in 61 games with 36 as a starter, but he averaged just 6.4 points per game with five rebounds. The Warriors made the postseason that year and reached the Semifinals, but Sampson only made appearance in the second round, playing 43 total minutes against the Phoenix Suns. He scored a total of 20 points with one assist and 14 rebounds in three combined games as the Warriors lost in five games. It was his last playoff appearance. He was traded to the Sacramento Kings on September 27, 1989 for Jim Petersen.

Sacramento Kings (1989–1991)

Sampson averaged 6.4 points and 5.0 rebounds with Golden State in 1988–89 and was traded during the offseason to the Sacramento Kings for Jim Petersen. Sampson's injury issues continued in Sacramento as he totaled just 51 games in two seasons, averaging 4.2 and 3.0 points, respectively, in 1989–90 and 1990–91.

Washington Bullets (1991–1992)

Released by the Kings, Sampson played a 10-game stint with the Washington Bullets in 1991–92 before being waived. He played 456 games in nine NBA seasons, which was 61.8% of the regular season games scheduled during his tenure.

Unicaja Ronda (1992)

Sampson played eight games for Unicaja Ronda of the Spanish League during the 1991–92 season.

Rockford Lightning (1994–1995)

Sampson also would play for the Rockford Lightning in the Continental Basketball Association during the 1994–95 season before ultimately retiring for good.

Coaching career

Returning to the United States, Sampson spent the 1992–93 season as an assistant to head coach Lefty Driesell at James Madison University before coaching a minor league professional team in Richmond, Virginia, named the Richmond Rhythm.

In October 2012, Sampson joined the Phoenix Suns' player development staff.[14] In June 2013, Sampson announced that he would not return as an assistant head coach.[15]


In 1996, Sampson was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.[16] In 2002, he was named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men's basketball team as one of the 50 greatest players in Atlantic Coast Conference history and one of only three Virginia Cavaliers so honored.[17]

On November 22, 2011, Sampson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. In February 2012, Sampson was honored by Houston Rockets and fans as a member of the Decade Team of the 1980s. On April 2, 2012, Sampson was named a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's induction class of 2012.[18]

Personal life

Sampson has four children by his ex-wife.[19] Their oldest son, Ralph III, played collegiate basketball for Minnesota.[20] Their younger son, Robert, transferred to Georgia Tech after playing his first three seasons (2010–2013) of college basketball for East Carolina University.[21] They have two daughters: Rachel, who graduated from Stanford University and worked at ESPN, and Anna.[19]

Sampson has four other children by four women,[19] including daughters named Leah and India.[22]

Reflecting on his career and its three knee surgeries, Sampson admitted that he had attempted to come back too quickly from them, and said that he tried not to think about what could have been.

Legal issues

In 2005, Sampson pleaded guilty to owing more than $300K in back child support for two children from different mothers in the Northern Virginia area. In 2006, he was sentenced to two months in prison for mail fraud associated with the purchase of an SUV.[23]


Career statistics

  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage  3P%  3-point field goal percentage  FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high


Regular season

1983–84 Houston 82 82 32.8 .523 .250 .661 11.1 2.0 .9 2.4 21.0
1984–85 Houston 82 82 37.6 .502 .000 .676 10.4 2.7 1.0 2.0 22.1
1985–86 Houston 79 76 36.3 .488 .133 .641 11.1 3.6 1.3 1.6 18.9
1986–87 Houston 43 32 30.8 .489 .000 .624 8.7 2.8 .9 1.3 15.6
1987–88 Houston 19 19 37.1 .439 .333 .741 9.1 1.9 .9 1.7 15.9
1987–88 Golden State 29 25 33.0 .438 .000 .775 10.0 2.9 .8 1.9 15.4
1988–89 Golden State 61 36 17.8 .449 .375 .653 5.0 1.3 .5 1.1 6.4
1989–90 Sacramento 26 7 16.0 .372 .250 .522 3.2 1.1 .5 .8 4.2
1990–91 Sacramento 25 4 13.9 .366 .200 .263 4.4 .7 .4 .7 3.0
1991–92 Washington 10 0 10.8 .310 .000 .667 3.0 .4 .3 .8 2.2
Career 456 363 29.8 .486 .172 .661 8.8 2.3 .9 1.6 15.4
All-Star 3 2 22.0 .636 .700 6.3 .7 .0 .3 16.3


1985 Houston 5 5 38.6 .430 1.000 .514 16.6 1.4 .4 1.6 21.2
1986 Houston 20 20 37.1 .518 1.000 .729 10.8 4.0 1.5 1.8 20.0
1987 Houston 10 10 33.0 .514 .500 .814 8.8 2.1 .2 1.2 18.6
1989 Golden State 3 1 14.3 .409 .000 .500 4.7 .3 .3 .7 6.7
Career 38 36 34.4 .497 .375 .703 10.5 2.9 .9 1.5 18.7


1979–80 Virginia 34 29.9 .547 .702 11.2 1.1 .8 4.6 14.9
1980–81 Virginia 33 31 32.0 .557 .631 11.5 1.5 .8 3.1 17.7
1981–82 Virginia 32 31 31.3 .561 .615 11.4 1.2 .6 3.1 15.8
1982–83 Virginia 33 33 30.2 .604 .704 11.7 1.0 .6 3.1 19.0

See also


  1. ^ Springer, Steve (June 21, 1991). "No Matter How It Comes Out, Clippers Always Get Flip Side". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 28, 2014.
  2. ^ Orton, Kathy (June 20, 2013). "Ralph Sampson was 1983's top NBA pick. Where is he now?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  3. ^ "1983 NBA Draft". basketballreference.com.
  4. ^ "Rookie of the Year Award winners". basketballreference.com.
  5. ^ Aldridge, David (December 25, 1988). "SAMPSON SAD SAGA OF A SAVIOR". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 16, 2022.
  6. ^ "1985 NBA All-Star Box Score". basketballreference.com.
  7. ^ "Player Game Finder". Stathead.com. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  8. ^ Astramskas, David. "(86) Ralph Sampson shocks the Lakers with a game-winning miracle shot". ballislife.com. Retrieved October 16, 2022.
  9. ^ "1986 NBA Finals Composite Box Score". basketballreference.com.
  10. ^ "Ralph Sampson Stands Alone at Center of Golden State Rebuilding Program". AP NEWS. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  11. ^ "Houston Rockets star Ralph Sampson suffered a large cartilage... - UPI Archives". UPI. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  12. ^ "What destroyed Sampson's career – OneManFastBreak". September 6, 2012. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  13. ^ "The Ralph Sampson Trade". JEFF PEARLMAN. June 18, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  14. ^ "Former Superstar Aligns With the Suns". Nba.com. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  15. ^ [1] [dead link]
  16. ^ "Virginia Sports Hall of Fame: Ralph Sampson". vasportshof.com. August 25, 2017. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  17. ^ "ACC 50th Anniversary Men's Basketball Team". TheACC.com. Atlantic Coast Conference. November 7, 2008. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  18. ^ "Ralph Sampson – Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame". hoophall.com. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  19. ^ a b c Orton, Kathy (June 20, 2013). "Ralph Sampson was 1983's top NBA pick. Where is he now?". The Washington Post Magazine. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  20. ^ "Ralph Sampson III Bio". GopherSports.com. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  21. ^ [2] [dead link]
  22. ^ "Studio 3.6 in Charlottesville is Team AFP Belk Bowl Sponsor". Augusta Free Press. December 18, 2018. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  23. ^ "Ralph Sampson jailed for mail fraud Archived November 30, 2012, at the Wayback Machine". NBC Sports. Retrieved on July 22, 2012.
  24. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". Achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  25. ^ Moore, David Leon (June 30, 1982). "Lakers 'settle' for Worthy as No.1 section in NBA draft". The Sun. pp. C-1, C-4. Retrieved May 2, 2020 – via Newspapers.com. Worthy, who averaged 15.6 points last season, was named first-team all-America by just about everybody in the picking business and was named co-college player of the year (along with Sampson) by the First Interstate Bank Athletic Foundation (formerly the Helms Foundation).