As a kid who grew up in Houston and played basketball “as far back as I can remember,” it was only natural that Joseph Blair adored the Houston Rockets.
“Hakeem Olajuwon, lets start right there,” The 6-foot-10, 265-pounder said. “Even John Lucas, who is up there right now (as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets). We were talking about this the other day: When I signed my letter of intent to go to Arizona, John Lucas came to my signing at my high school that year.”
Blair was announced as the new coach of the Rocket’s single-affiliation G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, on Wednesday. Blair has worked as a Vipers assistant coach since 2015.
“After spending the last three years in the Valley, I’m honored to be a part of something that represents such a wonderful community and prestigious organization,” Blair said in a Vipers press release. “(I am) looking forward to the season. I also consider it an honor to be the first coach to christen Bert Ogden Arena. I’m excited to feel the energy of the new arena and the Vipers fans. I’m hoping to set the bar extremely high for any coach that might end up filling my position in the future, just as it was done before I took the reins.”
Former Rio Grande Valley Vipers coach Matt Brase became yet another Vipers coach to move onto an NBA coaching job, when the Houston Rockets brought in Brase to be an assistant coach in September.
Every former Vipers coach has gone on to an NBA bench job or another head coaching gig. That trend is likely to continue with Blair.
Blair attended C.E. King High School in Houston before playing four years at the University of Arizona.
Blair has spent the past few training camps with the Rockets, and this year was no exception, as he has been with the Rockets since camp opened.
Blair looked back fondly on his time as a ball boy with the Rockets during his junior high school career.
“When I am in Houston and I am walking down the halls, they have all the pictures from the old teams and I can name every one of them,” Blair said. “I actually have a picture of when I was a ball boy for the Rockets. I remember taking that picture and being so honored to even be on the court that the Rockets play on. And now, here I am, throughout training camp I am on that court every day, working with All-Star players, Hall of Fame players like Chris Paul, James Harden and Carmelo Anthony. Just being able to rub shoulders with them, and not only being able to learn from Mike D’Antoni, a Hall of Fame coach, but also Hall of Fame players, it truly is a blessing.”
The Seattle SuperSonics selected Blair during the second round of the 1996 NBA draft.
Blair didn’t last in the NBA, so he took his career abroad, a move that would net him the EuroLeague MVP award in 2003.
Blair played for seven different teams in Europe over a 13-year playing career.
He then began his coaching career at his alma mater, Arizona, where he served as an assistant from 2013 to 2015.
“I’ve always been a defensive-minded player, but being under (Arizona coach) Sean Miller, he is a very defensive-minded coach. The goal there every year is to be in the top five of defensive teams in college,” Blair said. “Learning his terminologies, the way he sees things and his vision of the court, he is a basketball genius. It is hard to be around someone really smart and not become more intelligent; same thing with basketball.”
At Arizona, Blair worked with NBA players like Stanley Johnson (Detroit Pistons), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Brooklyn Nets) and T.J. McConnell (Philadelphia 76ers).
Training camp with the Rockets has been a dream come true for Blair, but it hasn’t been easy. The buildup to the beginning of the G-League season is very chaotic, as teams try to find as much value as possible.
“As of right now, everything is up in the air,” Blair said. “We are a week away from the (G-League) draft. We are in the process of building our draft board. There are some players that we would love to have come down to us, that might get picked up by another team. And there are some guys that are in camp with other teams, that we still hold the rights to, or could have an opportunity to bring in.”
Blair has been around some of the greatest basketball minds in the game. Now is his chance to combine all of his knowledge and experience and put it into effect on the court.
“My mom used to say ‘chew up the meat and spit out the bones,’” said Blair, who now eats a vegan diet. “With every coach I have played under, and every coach I have been on staff with, that is what I have tried to do. I say ‘let me take that, I like that. If I were him, this is what I would change.’ So it’s great because now, I can take everything I have learned, and everything I liked and implement it right here in the Valley.”