Shane Battier Misses Houston

On Feb. 24, 2011, Houston lost a piece of its soul. Not just in the local sports world, but in the community as well.

In a moment of reverse déjà vu, Shane Battier was traded back to the Memphis Grizzlies — the same team Houston acquired him in exchange for Stromile Swift and the draft rights to Rudy Gay back in 2006.

For the first time in five years, the Houston Rockets will hold a home opener without Battier Thursday night. Battier has moved again, leaving Memphis for Miami where he’ll chase a title as a sidekick to the championship favorite superstar trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat are already 3-0 as the 0-1 Rockets take the Toyota Center court for the first time this season to face San Antonio with Houston just hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.

I’m not sure anyone could have imagined the impact the 6-foot-8 forward from Duke would have had on one of the biggest cities in the country, or conversely the impact that city would have had on him and his family.

Battier was a stronghold with the Rockets, starting all but seven games during his four and a half seasons. He played a key role in 2008 when the Rockets recorded the second-longest consecutive wins streak (22) in NBA history, spending the most time of any player on the court during that impressive streak (according to Michael Lewis’ often-referenced New York Times article, “The No-Stats All-Star”).

Battier logged 11,910 playing minutes and scored a total of 3,052 points during his tenure with the Rockets. His heart and soul on the court, his defensive hustle and never give up attitude are just a handful of reasons Rockets fans everywhere fell in love with the guy.

And that’s just on the court.

More Than a Baller

Photo Courtesy of NYTimes.com

Sporting News didn’t name Battier the seventh smartest athlete in sports for nothing. Battier has made a career out of being smart both on and off the court and finding a way to connect with his team and fans on more than just a professional and athletic level.

“You hope to make a connection with the community that you are a part of. I was proud of my five years in Houston, it was an amazing ride. So many great relationships were started and I am proud that I had an impact in my years in Houston,” Battier wrote in an email interview.

Off the court, the guy loves Houston just as much as Houston loves (and misses) him. Battier and his wife Heidi were sad to leave Houston and sell their Southampton house, which they refer to as their “favorite.” The couple also misses all the amazing meals they’ve shared over the years at two Montrose hot spots — Da Marco and Dolce Vita.

Aside from his court smarts, one of the reasons Houston fans adored Battier was his laid-back nature — not afraid to sign autographs out and about, and certainly not afraid to sing a tune or two at Christian’s Tailgate on karaoke night.

“I will karaoke anytime, anywhere. My Way by Sinatra is just my bag,” he wrote. “One of the worst parts of being traded to Memphis mid year last year was cancelling our Clutch City Karaoke event in Houston to benefit The Battier Take Charge Foundation.

“I’d like to think that I am not that different from any other family man. I go to work (conditioning, shooting drills, lifting weights) and come home to hang out with my family, clean up after dinner, put the kids to bed and crack a Bud Light. Pretty standard really.”

(Coincidentally or not, Bud Light just so happens to be the best selling beer in Texas. Presumably another reason Shane misses H-Town?)

Even though it’s been half a season since Battier left, lifelong Rockets fan, Justin Capetillo, still misses seeing him on the court. “I miss his hustle and heart,” Capetillo said. “He was the ideal ‘team’ player, and any team is lucky to have his leadership. I don’t really like the Heat, but hope Battier finally gets his ring.”

Native Houstonian Dan Kuehn feels the same way. “I miss his gritty play and his witty interviews,” Kuehn said. “He plays the game with heart, brains, and passion. No one can argue that.”

And it’s not just the fans that miss him. The lovable, huggable Clutch mascot shared his sentiments on No. 31 saying, “Shane was one of my favorite players from my 17 years with the Rockets. He’s a standup guy — both on and off the court. He exemplified professional basketball at its finest. I miss him dearly.”

Speaking of his new team, when I asked Shane how he felt about his old teammates (who he’ll play April 22 in Miami), his response was simple, “I will be excited to play my guys on the Rockets. It will be strange but they will want to beat me as much as I want to beat them. For pride.

“If they brought me some fajitas from Lupe Tortilla or El Tiempo I’d be a happy man.”

Duly noted Shane, duly noted.

This article was featured on Culture Map, Houston’s Daily Digital Magazine in the sport’s section.

This was also part of The Blonde Side’s 30 Before 30 series.