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Hakeem Olajuwon: The NBA’s Best In The Mid ’90s (article)

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by dream2franchise, Sep 26, 2005.

  1. dream2franchise

    Jul 1, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I'm not sure if anyone has read this, it's an article from rockets.com which compares Hakeem on a statistical level against his peers and against some former greats (as much as it can anyway). It's pretty non-biased and is taken from a book called "Who's better Who's best in Basketball". It has his stats against Ewing, Admiral and Shaq in the playoffs and other cool things.



    Hakeem Olajuwon: The NBA’s Best In The Mid ’90s

    The following excerpt is from Elliott Kalb's first book, "Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Basketball?" Kalb, 42, one of network television’s leading information men for the last two decades, has closely followed the NBA for nearly 35 years. Upon graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Kalb was one of the first employees of NBA Entertainment (then NBA Films) where he logged nearly every game of the 1983-84 season, and produced features that aired on national broadcasts. Kalb became NBC Sports’ Senior Statistician and Director of Information on its NBA coverage beginning in 1990. When the NBA moved to ABC, Kalb moved with it, extending his streak of working every NBA Finals game for 13 years.

    MVP: 1
    MVP Voting: 6 years in the Top 5: 4th in 1986, 2nd in 1993, 1st in 1994, 4th in 1996
    NBA Titles: 2
    All-NBA First Team: 6
    All-NBA Second Team: 3

    Hakeem Olajuwon grew up in Nigeria and didn’t even pick up a basketball until he was nearly 17. It’s an incredible story that just a few years later, he was playing for the national championship at the University of Houston. No center in history has played more games for a franchise than Hakeem Olajuwon did for the Houston Rockets between 1985-2001. Only four players -- John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Jazz, John Havlicek of the Celtics, and Reggie Miller of the Pacers -- ever played more games for one team.

    Most games played at center for a franchise
    Games Player Team
    1,177 Hakeem Olajuwon Houston
    1,106 Robert Parish Boston
    1,093 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Los Angeles
    1,039 Patrick Ewing New York
    He grew to love the city of Houston, and the city of Houston loved him back.

    He was the first player picked in the 1984 NBA Draft. It’s a testament to Olajuwon that no one ever criticized the selection, despite the Rockets bypassing Michael Jordan.

    Now, Olajuwon wasn’t at the top of his game for each of those 1,177 contests. But he was at the top for a very long period of time. He was voted All-NBA Second Team back in 1986. He was voted All-NBA Third Team in 1999. He was one of the two or three best centers in the game 13 years apart.

    The Rockets have really had a history of great centers. Following the 2003 regular season, the NBA’s top seven scorers included three men who played at center for the Rockets (Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes and Hakeem). The 2003 season brought another All-Star center to Houston—Yao Ming.

    Olajuwon had so many skills. On March 29, 1990, he had a quadruple-double against the Milwaukee Bucks. In that game, he had 18 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and 11 blocked shots.

    Most Points Per Game, NBA Finals (min. 10 games)
    Player Games PPG
    Rick Barry 10 36.3
    Shaquille O’Neal 19 34.2
    Michael Jordan 35 33.6
    Jerry West 55 30.5
    Bob Pettit 25 28.4
    Hakeem Olajuwon 17 27.5
    He is so highly thought of, in large part because of his postseason play.

    Olajuwon blocked 54 shots in those 17 Finals games, more than three per game. Since they started keeping blocks in 1974, only one player (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) has more blocks in the Finals. And, of course, Abdul Jabbar has played many more games.

    Olajuwon was unstoppable in the 1986 Finals, averaging more than 25 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocked shots against the greatest frontcourt in history. The 1986 Celtics were 40-1 at home and 10-0 in the postseason at home. Olajuwon’s eight blocks in the fifth game cut the Celtics lead to 3-2.

    Olajuwon is one of the greatest big game players in history. Most of the other legendary players who were known as Clutch or Big Game performers (Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan) were perimeter players who handled the ball and were always able to get their shot off. Olajuwon was the finest big game center that ever played.


    Regular season: 21.8 points per game
    First 3 rounds playoffs: 25.6 points per game
    17 Finals games: 27.5 points per game
    Now, compare that to his two closest contemporaries.

    David Robinson:

    Regular season: 21.9 points per game
    100 playoff games: 20.4 points per game
    Patrick Ewing:

    Regular season: 20.9 points per game
    139 playoff games: 20.2 points per game
    In mano-a-man playoff action, Olajuwon clearly outplayed both Robinson and Ewing. In the 1995 Finals, he clearly outplayed O’Neal—although it was a little unfair, with Hakeem being in the prime of his career and Shaq being only at the very beginning of his.

    Hakeem vs Robinson: 1995 Western Conference Finals
    First, let’s set up the participants. David Robinson was the MVP in 1995, the league’s best player. The Spurs had the better team, and the home court advantage in the series.

    Do you remember what happened?

    The Rockets took the first two games in San Antonio. The Spurs came back and won the next two games in Houston. The Rockets won the next two games to take the series 4-2.

    David Robinson in series: 23.8 points 11.3 rebounds 2.7 assists 1.5 steals
    Hakeem Olajuwon in series: 35.3 points 12.5 rebounds 5.0 assists 4.1 blocks 1.3 steals

    Game 1: Olajuwon: 27 pts - Robinson 21 pts
    Game 2: Olajuwon: 41 pts - Robinson 32 pts
    Game 3: Olajuwon: 43 pts - Robinson 29 pts
    Game 4: Olajuwon: 20 pts - Robinson 20 pts
    Game 5: Olajuwon: 42 pts - Robinson 22 pts
    Game 6: Olajuwon: 39 pts - Robinson 19 pts
    I can’t find a more dominating performance against a league MVP on a superior team in the postseason. In the last two games, Hakeem outscored Robinson 81-41.

    Sean Elliott: “It was the most dominating performance by a player that I was ever witness to. But I blame our (San Antonio’s) marketing department. Hakeem had won the MVP award the previous year, and felt he deserved it in 1995. David won it, and it was announced right before our (Western Conference Finals) series started. The first game was in San Antonio, and they put together a tape with a collage of great Robinson plays. I found out later that the tape (and the naming of Robinson as MVP) spurred Olajuwon to new heights. Olajuwon was just unstoppable. But it wasn’t just David’s fault. Dennis (Rodman) was intent on getting every rebound, but he wouldn’t come out and guard anyone. That’s why Robert Horry killed us in that series. Dennis wouldn’t guard him! That doesn’t take anything away from Hakeem in the series. He was just awesome.”

    Hakeem vs Ewing: 1994 NBA Finals

    Game 1: Olajuwon 28 pts - Ewing 23 pts
    Game 2: Olajuwon 25 pts - Ewing 16 pts
    Game 3: Olajuwon 21 pts - Ewing 18 pts
    Game 4: Olajuwon 32 pts - Ewing 15 pts
    Game 5: Olajuwon 27 pts - Ewing 25 pts
    Game 6: Olajuwon 30 pts - Ewing 19 pts
    Game 7: Olajuwon 25 pts - Ewing 17 pts
    Patrick Ewing in series: 18.9 points .363 FG%
    Hakeem Olajuwon in series: 26.9 points .500 FG%

    Olajuwon outscored Ewing in all seven games. In the two regular season games played between Olajuwon and Ewing in 1994, Olajuwon averaged 33 points and 16.5 rebounds to Ewing’s 12.0 and 9.5.

    Hakeem vs Shaquille O’Neal: 1995 NBA Finals

    Game 1: Olajuwon: 31 pts - O’Neal 26 pts
    Game 2: Olajuwon: 34 pts - O’Neal 33 pts
    Game 3: Olajuwon: 31 pts - O’Neal 28 pts
    Game 4: Olajuwon: 35 pts - O’Neal 25 pts
    By the end of those 1995 Finals, Olajuwon was clearly ahead of Robinson and Ewing.

    Shaquille O’Neal, in a 1995 interview, called Olajuwon the best center in the game. “He’s got great moves, a great attitude. He’s a class act. I have no problem with Hakeem being called the best player in the game.” Of course, at the time, Olajuwon and O’Neal were represented by the same agent and agency. But O’Neal was giving respect to the right player.

    Moses Malone (NBA totals only): 1,329 games 45,071 minutes 27,409 pts 20.6 ppg
    Hakeem Olajuwon: 1,238 games 44,222 minutes 26,946 pts 21.8 ppg

    But Moses and Hakeem scored their 27,000 points very differently. Moses Malone did all his work under the basket, or on the free throw line.

    Moses Malone: 11,090 free throw attempts (8.3 FT attempts per game)
    Hakeem Olajuwon: 7,621 free throw attempts (6.1 FT attempts per game)

    Olajuwon used the shake and bake moves, ran the court better than most big men, and was able to time his jumps to block shots. He took a lot of outside shots, and perhaps that added to his longevity.

    Who’s Better, Who’s Best…Hakeem Olajuwon or Amare Stoudemire
    One of Hakeem’s former teammates, Eddie Johnson, was a radio analyist for the 2003 Phoenix Suns, and observed the raw rookie Stoudemire. Johnson told me that Amare mirrors Hakeem in so many ways. Hakeem had those cat-quick moves in the post. And so did Amare. Hakeem had the spin moves and loved to harass guards and was able to get a lot of steals. Johnson saw all of those traits in Stoudemire. Amare has a long way to go, but to remind former people of Hakeem Olajuwon at such a young age speaks volumes about the rising Sun.

    Other ways to measure Olajuwon’s greatness:
    I remember when Doug Collins would tell me how great Michael Jordan played for him in 1987 and 1988. He loved the fact that Jordan had at least 100 steals and 100 blocks in the season (Jordan had 125 and 131 blocks those two seasons, the only two in which he went over 100 blocks).

    Since they began keeping blocks and steals (1974), the feat of getting at least 100 of each has only been done about 110 times in almost 30 years. Obviously, it favors a big man, because guards just don’t average over a block per game. Moses Malone never did it. Kevin McHale never did it. Shaquille O’Neal never did it. Patrick Ewing did it twice. David Robinson did it seven times. Hakeem Olajuwon did it 12 times.

    He would have done it 13 times, but in his rookie season, he had just 99 steals. He would have done it in 1999, but they only played 50 games that season. O’Neal had 82 steals in those 50 games.

    Olajuwon - in 1989 - did something no one ever did (of course, we don’t know how many blocks and steals Wilt and his peers would have been credited). He had 213 steals and 282 blocks that season and 13 seasons straight of at least 100 steals and 200 blocks.

    Most Career Blocks
    Player Blocks
    Hakeem Olajuwon 3,830
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 3,189
    Mark Eaton 3,064
    Olajuwon has the NBA record (again, since they began crediting blocks in 1974) for most blocks.

    Now, a few drawbacks to Olajuwon’s career record for blocks.

    1) It is almost certain that Chamberlain and Russell would have had more blocks.

    2) Abdul-Jabbar had 3,189 - and played his first four years without the stat being kept. In his 1974 season (Kareem’s fifth in the league) he blocked 283 shots in 81 games. If we simply apply his per game average to his first four seasons, we would have to credit him with another 1,122 blocks. That would bring him up to around 4,310. I’d feel a whole lot better calling Hakeem the all-time blocks leader (at least post Wilt/Russell) if his career total was up around 4,300. You can go to the bank on this one, folks. Abdul-Jabbar had more than 700 blocks in his first 321 games. In the first two years that they kept blocks, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 3.5 per game.

    3) Dikembe Mutombo has averaged 3.38 blocks per game in his career, and may approach Hakeem's block total in the next few seasons.

    Olajuwon’s 1995 Rockets eliminated four teams that won 50+ games. They eliminated the San Antonio Spurs (62-20), the Utah Jazz (60-22), the Phoenix Suns (59-23), and the Orlando Magic (57-25).

    The 1995 Rockets were one of only three teams to defeat a pair of 60-win teams. The 1973 Knicks defeated the 68-win Celtics and 60-win Lakers. The 1993 Bulls defeated the 60-22 Knicks and the 62-win Suns.

    On March 9, 1991, Olajuwon added an H to his first name for religious reasons. He also added a C for controversy to his newspaper clips; the first hint of controversy in his career to that point. Olajuwon never had anywhere near the biggest salary in the league, and the Rockets offered a contract extension that didn’t suit Hakeem. What happened next is a matter of which party to believe. Olajuwon claims he was injured. The Rockets claimed otherwise. Olajuwon demanded a trade. The Rockets suspended Olajuwon. Eventually, the Rockets not only resigned Olajuwon to a contract that was fair to both sides; they hired Rudy Tomjanovich as head coach. Olajuwon responded with his career-best seasons, despite being over 30.

    You had to drive a stake through this vampire to kill him. Olajuwon just wouldn’t go down easily. Once Rudy Tomjanovich came aboard as head coach in 1992, Olajuwon resolved his differences and began a period as the best center in the game. And get this: beginning in 1992, Olajuwon’s teams were 14-6 when facing elimination.

    For a comparison, Shaquille O’Neal’s teams are 5-6 when facing elimination, and 1-6 prior to the Lakers’ three-peat.

    This material has been excerpted from "Who's Better, Who's Best in Basketball?" by Elliott Kalb. All rights reserved.


    Greatest '5' of all time? Me thinks so.
  2. arno_ed

    arno_ed Contributing Member

    Jan 14, 2002
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    Nice article.
    Hakeem was amazing. The only thing i do not like is the comparisment with Amare, maybe amare compairs on offense, But he is nowere near Hakeem on defense. In the beginning of his career hakeem was mostly an defenisve force.

    Hakeem was the greatest:D
  3. Rivaldo2181

    Rivaldo2181 Contributing Member

    May 30, 2003
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    Sweet Article! Dream can never be replaced! Unbea-da-ble!
  4. Rockets34Legend

    Rockets34Legend Contributing Member

    Jun 12, 2002
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    Man, brings back memories....

    I miss Hakeem! :(
  5. Zboy

    Zboy Contributing Member

    Aug 19, 2002
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    The most overlooked and underappreciated NBA player. He was truly great and in my experience people who have followed him regularly are the ones who really appreciate him. Had he played for the lakers or NY, he would have garnered more attention.
  6. DaDakota

    DaDakota If you want to know, just ask!

    Mar 14, 1999
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    Let's hope in 15 years we are talking about Yao this way.

  7. gucci888

    gucci888 Contributing Member

    May 20, 2002
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    The Dream is still the most amazing player I've seen on the court. I truly think he is very much underrated and underappreciated by the NBA. I mean, he was the premier big man in the 90s, I don't think anyone came close to the things he was doing, but of course, that's coming from a loyal Rocket fan.
  8. Uprising

    Uprising Contributing Member

    Dec 29, 2000
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    Man, dream was awesome.
  9. Pizza_Da_Hut

    Pizza_Da_Hut I put on pants for this?

    Jul 16, 2003
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    And the b*stard left us for what reason again? I mean that was freaking heart breaking seeing 34 in a Raptors uni :(
  10. mknowles

    mknowles Member

    Sep 16, 2002
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    Dream never missed a shot that he wasn't fouled on . . . that's how I remember it anyway. Those days were fun!
  11. nigma2000

    nigma2000 Member

    May 19, 2002
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    Man it happens in all of sports. Do you really think guys like Montana, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, or Jordan wanted to leave their teams. They felt unwanted and they still had the love for the game.

    I'm sure Hakeem probably regrets somwhat going to the Raptors now, but anyway he played what like a season there mostly on the DL.

    Nobody will remember that stint there, just like nobody will remember Emmitt's stint with the Cardinals or Jordan's with the Wizards.
  12. insane man

    insane man Member

    Aug 9, 2003
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    i was a wreck when i heard the news. :(
  13. AMS

    AMS Contributing Member

    Oct 8, 2003
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    same reason the b*stard roger clemens left his team.
  14. BabyClutch

    BabyClutch Contributing Member

    Jun 1, 2005
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    wasn't he born w/ the H in his first name? and then it got messed up when he came to the States, so he later added it back right?
  15. OddsOn

    OddsOn Contributing Member

    Aug 12, 2003
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    Not true....Hakeem or Akeem as he was known then was a quite gifted offensive player after his second year in college.

    I remember watching one of the sports shows and they posed the question "Who would you choose as the All-Time Best NBA Center?" to Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberland, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Shaq and others and do you know who they all picked? Hakeem Olajuwon!

    Also a reporter once asked Michael Jordan "If you could select any center from history to play with you on your team who would it be?" and do you know who he chose? Hakeem Olajuon!

    I'll have to do some research on this but if memory serves me right, Hakeem's Rockets teams during the 90's were one of (if not the only) a few teams to have a winning record against Jordan's Bulls.

    You just knew whenever you needed a big play in the game he would give it to you....just like all the greats.
  16. pgabriel

    pgabriel Educated Negro

    Dec 6, 2002
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    Yeah, but that had a lot to do with vernon maxwell also.
  17. rocketabc

    rocketabc Contributing Member

    May 11, 2001
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    If I remember correctly, only the Rockets and (ugh!) Jazz had winning records against Jordan in his career.
  18. thegame_2234

    thegame_2234 Contributing Member

    Jun 22, 2002
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    the best center ever live

    -5 - 10
    and then coming

    Shaq ;) :D
  19. steddinotayto

    steddinotayto Contributing Member

    Aug 10, 2001
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    This is deceiving. NBA's best in the MID 90s? Was there ever any doubt? When someone makes a debate on who was better in the whole 90s decade and puts Hakeem above Jordan, then we'll have something to talk about :D
  20. dream2franchise

    Jul 1, 2002
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    I think it's like some kind of subconscious asterix where every sports writer has to make sure they mention that Jordan was retired when Hakeem was MVP. Really irks me as he would have had the same season regardless. Maybe they should just strike out everyone's achievements during 1993-94 so that it was as if he never left.

    Can i just add that Jordan played during the 95 championship run, and i don't wanna hear about him not being 100% back because he made quite a few of his famous game winning shots in that half of the season as well as dropped a double nickel on the Knicks-he was back, the Bulls got knocked out but nobody seems to remember it.

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