Like Tom Brady, Robert Horry wants the respect he deserves
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA reporter
The morning after Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl ring, another name was trending on Twitter.
It was Robert Horry's, the star role player who won seven titles over his 16-season NBA career — the most of any player not with the 1960s Boston Celtics.
Horry congratulated Brady in a tweet, welcoming him to the "7 Chip Club" by posting a meme of their faces photoshopped onto two people in Spider-Man suits pointing at each other.
But some people took that as an opportunity to take shots at Horry, minimizing his success as just being in the right place at the right time and scoffing at his stats.
Horry is sick of it.
And for the first time, he decided to voice his frustration.
"A part of you gets mad because I don't think people outside the NBA family — and when I say 'NBA' I'm saying coaches and players — they don't really respect what I did and they don't really understand what I did and what I was able to accomplish," Horry told FOX Sports. "It's always, 'Oh he was a part. Oh, he was a part.' Yeah, I was a part, but I was a significant part.
"You can't have Kool-Aid without sugar, and I was the sugar to most of that stuff."
Horry won two championships with the Houston Rockets (1994 and 1995), three with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2002) and two with the San Antonio Spurs (2005 and 2007).
He was nicknamed "Big Shot Rob" because for a decade and a half his teammates knew they could count on him in the rarest, most pressure-filled situations when everyone else on the court was either drowning in a sea of opposing jerseys — or their own nerves.
He had so many huge moments, so many thrilling buzzer-beaters on the biggest of stages that stunned defenders and sent his teammates into fits of elation.
But Horry insists he doesn't get the respect he deserves. He's not in the Hall of Fame. And according to public opinion, his accomplishments are often minimized because he played alongside Hakeem and Drexler, Shaq and Kobe, and Timmy, Tony, and Manu.
"More than half the time, I feel slighted because I don't think people really appreciate what I did," Horry said. "Even [Monday], with me tweeting [about Brady], there's always people going, 'Oh, this, this, and this.' I don't pay any attention because if it was one of my teammates that would've said it, then it would've had some meaning."
Those who played with Horry have an entirely different view of him.
They know that the 7.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists he averaged over his career don't tell the full story. Horry's impact was felt in the immeasurables — in the charges he drew, the game-changing blocks he made, and the fearless shots he took with games on the line.
Kobe Bryant witnessed many of these plays firsthand, such as the corner 3-pointer Horry made in Game 3 of the 2001 NBA Finals, which put the Lakers up 92-88 over the Philadelphia 76ers with 47.1 seconds remaining. Or the game-winning 3-pointer he swished against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 of the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
Or the walk-off triple from beyond the arc he made three rounds later in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings.
Fans may not understand Horry's importance. But Bryant, one of the best players of all-time, was never shy about singing his praises.
After Horry retired in 2008, he brought his son, Cameron, to a Rockets game against the Lakers, and Bryant pulled Cameron aside in the locker room and told him that Horry was the smartest player he ever played with.
Then, when Bryant was retiring in 2016, he revealed that Horry had helped him become a better player.
"He came to me and said 'Thank you,'" Horry said. "I'm like, 'For what, for your three championships?' He said, 'Nah, you helped me on my 3-point shot. One day you watched me and told me I was jumping too high on my shot and kinda said relax on it.'"
Horry played similarly crucial roles in the careers of many other all-time greats.
Rockets hall-of-famer Hakeem Olajuwon once told him that he was the only player who gave him the basketball where he liked it when they played together. Last September, Shaquille O'Neal called him one of his four favorite teammates of all-time on Russell Wilson's DangerTalk podcast, picking Horry above LeBron James.
The hosts laughed.
But O'Neal shook his head.
"He saved me at least two out of four championships," O'Neal said. "He saved me."
Magic Johnson called Horry one of the 10 greatest clutch players of all-time. Spurs legend George Gervin picked him as one of the players he'd choose to take the final shot.
Horry said he could stay calm in high-pressure moments because he never took himself too seriously. He always viewed basketball as fun — as a game. When he caught the ball with the score tied and the buzzer about to sound, he'd sometimes talk to himself, reminding his brain, hands, and legs that none of what they were about to do truly mattered.
He had that perspective because of the challenges his family faced off the court. Horry's first daughter, Ashlyn, was born in 1994 with a rare genetic condition that forced her to cope with severe respiratory issues, seizures, and delayed development.
"Watching her struggle to even breathe for the first six months of her life and here I am running up and down the court, you know, releasing all of this energy and emotions and taking my frustrations out on the court," he recalled. "And then to come home and watch her have a smile on her face, have the ability to take a breath and steps, it made me appreciate what I had."
Basketball was his escape. It was just a game.
That's not to say that the missed shots didn't haunt him.
Especially one in particular.
With the Lakers trailing the Spurs, 96-94, and five seconds left in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series in 2003, Horry shot a potential game-winner that struck iron, circled the inside of the rim, and then climbed out, giving the Spurs a 3-2 series lead. The Spurs won the next game, dashing the Lakers' hopes of winning four championships in a row and propelling San Antonio toward their first title since 1999.
That miss capped off an unusual postseason for Horry. The normally clutch shooter had missed 36 of his 38 3-point attempts in the playoffs, and the Lakers decided not to exercise their $5.3 million option on his contract that summer. For the next two years, he'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking about that shot.
Horry went on to sign a multi-year deal with the Spurs, giving him a front-row seat to their ring ceremony the following season — a form of cruel and unusual punishment for any player.
"It was the weirdest feeling ever," Horry said. "I never talked about that until now."
But the ring ceremony was also inspiring. It whetted his appetite. It made him crave that feeling again.
Horry went on to have it two more times.
And he more than redeemed himself for that dreadful postseason, including a performance in Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons, in which he scored 18 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Horry retired in 2008 because the game finally stopped being fun for him. He still loved basketball, but his body could no longer jump as high or react as quickly. He knew it was time to move on.
In 2011, Ashlyn died. She was 17 years old. He was overcome by grief, and even though he hadn't touched a basketball in years, he decided getting back into shape would help him be present for his family.
While doing sprints on a basketball court in Houston one day, a couple of regulars he often saw there invited him to join their game. Horry took them up on the offer, and they wound up becoming close friends. One of the men, a pastor, officiated Horry's 2019 wedding to his wife, Candice Madrid.
"You forget why you play it, just to get out there and sweat, have fun, talk trash to one another, just have a good time," he said. "It brought that good time in my life back."
Horry is now a Lakers analyst for Spectrum SportsNet, and he recently began completing his undergraduate degree in human environmental sciences at the University of Alabama, where he played college ball. When he can, he still plays basketball in a league in Pasadena.
The game has been good to Horry, who has been part of more championship teams than any other player since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger.
"I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish," he said. "I'm proud of what I did."
It would be nice if the rest of the world saw it, too.
But even if some fans never truly understood his impact on the game, Horry's teammates knew what he meant to their success.
"They acknowledged me and let me know that if it wasn't for Big Shot Rob, they'd have a lot less rings."