Whatever Happened to 7-Foot-4 Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson?
Even in the NBA, Ralph Sampson was always the tallest player on the basketball court. At 7-foot-4, he used his height as an advantage to put together a successful career that featured four All-Star appearances.
Sampson was a dominant player throughout college and in the NBA. He racked up numerous awards during his playing career and earned his way to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Ralph Sampson had a tremendous college career
A native of Virginia, Sampson was one of the most heavily recruited basketball prospects of his time. In high school, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated six times. He decided to stay in-state for college and attended the University of Virginia, generating plenty of excitement for the program with his commitment.
Sampson immediately made an impact. During his freshman year, he was named the ACC Rookie of the Year and helped lead Virginia to the 1980 NIT title.
But Sampson took his game to the proverbial next level over the next three seasons. He was a three-time ACC Player of the Year and National Player of the Year award winner, as well as a three-time first-team All-American. Behind his dominance, the Cavaliers advanced to the Final Four in 1981 and the Elite Eight in 1983.
After his junior year at Virginia, Sampson considered entering the 1982 NBA Draft but decided to stay for his senior year, at least partially to avoid the possibility of coming off the board to the San Diego Clippers at No. 1 overall.
Virginia has since retired his No. 50 jersey.
Ralph Sampson, the No. 1 NBA draft pick
The No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft was a foregone conclusion.
The Houston Rockets selected Ralph Sampson, and he wasted no time during his rookie year. The big man started all 82 games as a rookie and averaged 21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 2.0 assists. He was named to the All-Star team and won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
The next season, Sampson continued to dominate for the Rockets. He averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds and made his second consecutive All-Star team, where he was named the MVP of the exhibition contest.
Sampson spent four and a half seasons in Houston before the Rockets traded him to the Golden State Warriors during the 1987-88 campaign. Throughout the rest of his career, he dealt with injuries and saw his numbers decrease, but he continued to have an impact whenever he was healthy enough to suit up. After playing for the Warriors, he spent time with the Sacramento Kings and the Washington Bullets.
Ralph Sampson’s career after the NBA
After his NBA career, Sampson played eight games for Unicaja Ronda of the Spanish League during the 1991–92 season and for the Rockford Lightning in the Continental Basketball Association during the 1994–95 campaign.
Following his retirement, he spent some time as an assistant coach at James Madison University and was a head coach for the Richmond Rhythm, a minor league team in Richmond, Virginia. In 2012, he returned to the NBA and joined the Phoenix Suns’ player development staff before leaving the coaching ranks in June 2013.
Sampson moved back to Virginia to focus on giving back to his hometown and the larger community through the Sampson Family Foundation, a non-profit he founded to raise money for cancer research in honor of his father, a cancer survivor who had both lung and prostate cancer.
“Our region here in Rockingham County is probably one of the largest in the state agriculturally, so there are some things we want to do here as well that you will see in the future,” Sampson explained to WDBJ7 about his other pursuits in the area.
The 63-year-old has eight children — four with ex-wife Aleize Sampson and four through other relationships. Two went on to play college basketball: Ralph III at Minnesota and Robert at East Carolina. Another, Rachel, has been involved in sports through her work at ESPN.
Sampson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.