1. Welcome! Please take a few seconds to create your free account to post threads, make some friends, remove a few ads while surfing and much more. ClutchFans has been bringing fans together to talk Houston Sports since 1996. Join us!

[sun-sentinel]How Hakeem Olajuwon helped LeBron James

Discussion in 'NBA Dish' started by tinman, Sep 27, 2012.

  1. tinman

    tinman Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    May 9, 1999
    Likes Received:
    There's a video too (can't embed it)


    By Mike Berardino
    Sun Sentinel
    11:15 a.m. EDT, September 22, 2012

    SUGAR LAND, Texas— Their association began with a phone call and a question.

    “What,” Hakeem Olajuwon wanted to know, “are you trying to accomplish?”

    LeBron James, stuck at a career crossroads, didn’t hesitate.

    “He told me he has played basketball all his life,” Olajuwon, the Hall of Fame center, recalls on a recent afternoon at his sprawling home in a southwest suburb of Houston. “Facing the basket, shooting threes, this and that, but to complete his game, he needed to get inside.”

    This was in the late summer of 2011, and LeBron was still in full seeker mode in the aftermath of the Heat’s NBA Finals collapse against the Dallas Mavericks.
    Ripped for disappearing when it mattered most, mocked for still finding himself without a championship eight seasons into his pro career, LeBron reached out to a veritable Mount Olympus of basketball greats as the NBA lockout dragged on.

    He met with Magic Johnson, spoke with Isiah Thomas and tried unsuccessfully to set up a chat with Larry Bird.

    However, it was the Hakeem Sessions that paid the most obvious dividend.

    How many times during the Heat’s 2012 championship run did LeBron turn his back to the basket and spin past a helpless opponent for an easy score?

    How many times during his third league MVP season did LeBron exchange the easy and the familiar of the perimeter for the rugged and the raw of the low post?

    And how many times in those final three matchups, against the Pacers and the Celtics and the Thunder, did LeBron help the Heat climb back from daunting series deficits with moves right out of the Olajuwon repertoire?

    Spinning, dipping, up-and-unders?

    Cheetah-like drop steps followed by thunderous slams?

    And yes, even a handful of feathery fadeaways along the baseline, a move so familiar Olajuwon will soon be releasing a full line of lifestyle gear, including personally designed basketball shoes, in its honor.

    The Dream Shake.

    “I saw all of the moves we worked on,” Olajuwon, 49, says proudly. “When you work with a player, the satisfaction is in knowing that now, when it counts, when it is valued, he is executing.”

    Last season, his game finally complete, the sport’s most talented player executed as he never had before.

    Getting started

    LeBron arrived with an entourage.

    Four friends in all, including a videographer, accompanied him to Olajuwon’s ranch in Katy, about 45 minutes north of his primary home in Sugar Land.

    “He brought a few of his boys,” Olajuwon says, smiling.

    Yet, it was clear from the start this was no typical offseason getaway. This, in some sense, was the Last Chance Saloon for a player deemed well overdue in the pursuit of a championship.

    Olajuwon, who led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in the Jordanless mid-‘90s, held the secrets of success, particularly when it came to scoring in heavy traffic.

    Since retiring a decade ago after 18 seasons, the native of Lagos, Nigeria had given a handful of these high-level clinics to rising and in some cases established stars.

    Kobe Bryant was the first, visiting in 2008 to work on his post moves after a Finals loss to the Celtics, then reeling off two more championships the following two years.

    “Kobe started all of this,” Olajuwon says.

    Dwight Howard visited two straight years, including the week before LeBron in 2011.

    This summer, it was Amare Stoudmire of the Knicks and a pair of Nuggets big men: JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried.

    Soon, as a favor to former Rockets teammate Mike Woodson, now coaching the Knicks, Olajuwon will pay a visit to Knicks training camp.

    However, when it came to LeBron, something was different than the others.

    There was almost a desperation to his visit.

    “He was so determined,” Olajuwon says, clenching a fist. “That’s number one. He was always saying, ‘I’m here.’

    That pushes me. When somebody wants it so much and is so eager … wow. I was very happy because I knew I could help him.”

    The package of moves Olajuwon shares is tweaked for the particular skills of each NBA visitor. LeBron, he quickly surmised, had some of the same physical attributes of Howard, but no one in the modern game, maybe ever, can fully approximate what the Heat star brings to the table.

    That’s why they had to go beyond the norm in their sessions.

    “What I work on the most is the mentality,” Olajuwon says. “When you come here, we are not big men. We are not trailers. We are sports cars. Speed, quickness, agility.”

    Teaching James

    It is just the two of us in Olajuwon’s oversized living room, decorated tastefully in light birch flooring and white cloth sofas to go with cathedral ceilings.

    A long bank of windows looks out onto a well-manicured back yard and beyond that a peaceful lake.

    Abi Olajuwon, one of Hakeem’s children, rode his lessons all the way to the WNBA in recent years.

    With late-afternoon sunlight streaming into the room, Olajuwon falls easily into deconstructing the game he first embraced three decades ago as a member of Phi Slama Jama, probably the greatest uncrowned dynasty in college basketball history.

    “Our ballhandling in the post, we should handle the ball like a guard inside in traffic,” he says. “Your dribble with the spin in traffic is not a traditional dribble. I have to show you.”

    Now the great Olajuwon leaps up from the couch and retreats to an open space between the living room and the dining area. He begins pantomiming the moves he showed LeBron, demonstrating what might be termed an attacking dribble.

    “Traditional dribbling is up and down, up and down,” he says, demonstrating. “I dribble the ball like this: Boom! Right back. Like a yo-yo.”

    A little later, Olajuwon leaps up again, this time to demonstrate his famous baseline spin move.

    “Here, put your elbow in my back,” he says, inviting me to simulate classic NBA post defense.

    It’s a bit of a mismatch, as I’m giving away at least a foot in height to one of the sleekest big men ever.

    No matter.

    Hakeem is in his element. Eyes flashing. Words flowing.

    “Watch this,” he says, grinning.

    One side of a large Persian rug is the baseline.

    A coffee table is the lane.

    A fluffy white chair serves as the backboard.

    He fakes left and spins right, using short, precise steps.

    Everything stays in perfect balance.

    I blink, and he’s already past me.


    “See that,” he says. “I locked your elbow with mine. That’s all it is.”

    He laughs happily, claps his hands together in joyous approval and returns to his seat on the long white couch.

    Teacher and pupil: a special chemistry

    The sessions lasted only three days, three hours each day, with lunch back at the house afterwards.

    Yet each day, when Olajuwon walked into his home basketball gym at 10 a.m., he saw the same thing.

    LeBron, already stretched and in a full sweat, ready to work after showing up well before the appointed time.

    “When we started to work on all the drills of the post, at the beginning there were some moves that he was not used to,” Olajuwon says. “That was challenging for him. As great of an athlete as he is, some moves he’s not comfortable with.”

    The key to changing that?

    “Repetition,” Olajuwon says. “The concept is you demonstrate, then you break down the demonstration, then imitation. Over and over and over.”

    It helped that LeBron and Hakeem clicked right from the start.

    They had met once or twice before, quick handshakes during a Cavaliers or Heat trip to Houston, but now they would forge a new dynamic: teacher-pupil.

    First, however, LeBron would have to put his trust in the man with nearly 27,000 career points, 11th all-time.

    “This is a different generation, but we connected when he came this time,” Olajuwon says. “You could see that he felt very comfortable, very relaxed. He had put a lot of pressure on himself to win a championship, but this was very refreshing for him. No judgment.”

    Olajuwon took an immediate liking to LeBron. As approachable a superstar as you’ll find, Olajuwon saw some of those same qualities in LeBron.

    “I like the way he carries himself,” Olajuwon says. “Just his demeanor. He was very humble. If somebody is humble, you will like the person, and I sensed that. I liked his personality.”

    On his first day in Katy, LeBron was heading off to take a shower. Olajuwon, ever the gracious host, tried to help him with some of the logistics, but LeBron smiled and waved him off.

    “I was telling him where the soap was,” Olajuwon says. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m low maintenance.’ I liked that. I liked how simple he was and his friends, too. They came in a very simple way. They were all very normal.”

    The final test

    By the third day, whatever apprehension LeBron might have had about his ability to master the low post had melted away.

    Olajuwon, who also has worked with new Heat forward Rashard Lewis, has a test he likes to give his pupils before he sends them on their way.

    This test doesn’t require a blue book or a No. 2 pencil. Just a basketball, a court and the ability to flow from one Hakeem-style move to the next.

    “What was beautiful was the last day of the workout, we were running down the court,” Olajuwon says. “I would make any move. He would do the same perfectly. Perfect. All over the halfcourt.”

    The attacking yo-yo dribble.

    The Heat-lightning drop step.

    And, most majestically of all, the Dream Shake along the baseline.

    “It’s like playing horse, but with all the movement,” Olajuwon says. “I’m making my moves, and he just follows off of that. Spin move. He spins. It’s all very crisp.”

    They would speak by phone a few times during the playoffs, LeBron’s determination sizzling through the airwaves, even after Chris Bosh’s injury made the Pacers series look particularly dire.

    “He was reassuring me,” Olajuwon says, “more than I was reassuring him.”

    Olajuwon was back at his other main home in Amman, Jordan, when the Heat finished off the Thunder, but even halfway across the globe he wasn’t the least bit surprised to see LeBron finally hoist “Larry,” the golden grail he’d only been chasing for nine professional seasons.

    “I could see when he left the ranch, his excitement was high and he was ready,” Olajuwon says. “I thought, ‘He has completed his game. He feels that. He believes that.’ “

    With the Heat set to open training camp Saturday, Olajuwon, who knows what it takes to repeat, has some bad news for the rest of the league.

    He believes LeBron will soon incorporate even more of the low-post game they polished.

    “That was just last year,” Olajuwon says. “That was his first year. Now I think he gets a little more comfortable. When he gets more comfortable, he will come more into his own in the post.”

    Nor does Olajuwon, while acknowledging the presence of several “legitimate” title contenders out west, see any reason LeBron can’t do what Kobe did and follow up his Hakeem Sessions with back-to-back titles.

    “I think it will be much easier for him,” Olajuwon says. “All the pressure of, ‘OK, can he do it?’ That’s gone now.”

    In its place is something more pure.

    “The goal is different,” Olajuwon says. “It’s not to prove a point to people. Now it’s just to take advantage of the opportunity: ‘Can we really achieve something great in the real sense? Can we get three out of five [championships]?’ “

    Olajuwon’s eyes widen. He leans forward.

    The Dream is about to forecast an NBA nightmare.

    “That is a very realistic goal,” he says. “In fact, it’s scary.”
  2. ferrari77

    ferrari77 Contributing Member

    Jun 15, 2006
    Likes Received:
    I Lol'd at Hakeem bringing out a bit of his Nigerian in that. "Trailers"!
    But yeah good article.

    I like that Mamba was the first to seek Hakeem and then the others followed!:grin:
  3. merrrlo

    merrrlo Member

    Feb 18, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Is it really necessary for every article about the Dream to include that factually incorrect little passing comment, as if to belittle his achievements and even in articles that are meant to be mainly positive about him...?
  4. cheke64

    cheke64 Member

    May 12, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Not 1 dream shake move I've seen come out of lebron.
  5. Drexlerfan22

    Drexlerfan22 Contributing Member

    Apr 6, 2002
    Likes Received:
    You beat me to it.

  6. DonatasFanboy

    DonatasFanboy Member

    Feb 14, 2012
    Likes Received:
    :grin::grin: got to love Larry.
  7. tinman

    tinman Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    May 9, 1999
    Likes Received:
    proof that we need to re-educate the world about clutch city.

    dumb florida writer.
  8. ktbballplaya

    ktbballplaya Member

    Jul 1, 2003
    Likes Received:
  9. therealroksoer

    therealroksoer New Member

    Sep 28, 2012
    Likes Received:
    I believe LeBron's post game is still very weak; it's incredible how he managed to raise his game, even tough he got like 2% of Olajuwon's moves...

    Let's see if the other guys improve under Hakkem as well
  10. Drexlerfan22

    Drexlerfan22 Contributing Member

    Apr 6, 2002
    Likes Received:

Share This Page