HOUSTON – Where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? When the Berlin Wall fell? When Chuck Hayes turned into Magic Johnson right before our very eyes?
The history books are full of indelible moments, but there are surely few more improbable ones than the Rockets’ 6-foot-6 center ringing up the first triple-double of his career — 13 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists — in Wednesday night’s win over Golden State.
For six seasons, he’s been the defensive anchor, the one who does all of the dirty work and is often the smallest starting center in the NBA. And here he was exploding like the Fourth of July.
It became official with 6:26 left in the game when Hayes dropped in a jump hook from the lane.
“That was the hardest point of my life,” he said. “I felt like I was stuck at nine for like two days, but I’m happy we got the win. The fan support was great. The guys were really cheering me on for this achievement and once it was over, it was like the biggest relief I’ve had in a long time.”
Try on this stat. Triple-doubles in the NBA this season: Steve Nash 0, Chris Paul 0, Deron Williams 0, “Magic” Hayes 1.
“Honestly, inside I am jumping for joy,” he said. “I am so juiced inside. I just don’t want to bring it to my outer self. It’s a great achievement. I’m excited. It’s something you read about. It’s something the great stars do. Never in a million years did I think I’d get it, but I did.”
This is a guy with a 4.2 career scoring average and a 1.2 a game assist pace. It was like seeing Queen Elizabeth step onto the balcony at Buckingham Palace dressed like Lady Gaga.
“I can’t say how pleased I am with someone like Chuck,” said Rockets coach Rick Adelman. “That’s just terrific for a guy like that and the way he works and the things he’s done…It’s just a pleasure to watch a guy like that with his work ethic and everything he does is really terrific.”
It was a fitting payoff for the veteran who has assumed the mantle of leadership in the locker room since Shane Battier was dealt to Memphis at the trade deadline. Hayes and Kyle Lowry have been the main forces to propel the Rockets to a 10-3 record since then and into the race for the No. 8 playoff spot in the West.
“When Shane was here, I kind of just piggybacked whatever Shane said,” Hayes said. “His leadership and just the respect he demands in the locker room, I was able to be Robin to his Batman as far as team leadership. When we traded him, I just took on everything he’s ever taught me and tutored me on and tried to apply it to these young guys. I had a great mentor.
“Now it’s my turn to be the voice in this locker room and along side of me I’m gonna need some help from Kyle, Luis (Scola) and even Kevin (Martin). Right now, I’m doing what my job has entitled me to do. That’s be that veteran, that glue guy on the team on the court.
“I like to think they’re responding to me. I get a better sense of appreciation when they come in and ask questions. When they ask questions, it means they’re here to listen to me and my voice is being heard.”
It also means Hayes has moved over from the passenger seat to take his spot driving the Batmobile.
“I guess,” he said laughing. “I ain’t touching the steering wheel just yet. I’ve got it on auto-cruise and we’ll see where it takes us.”
With Magic Hayes, there’s no telling how far.