When debating some of the league’s best big men, household names such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain most commonly dominate the conversation.
But what if I told you there was a forgotten center, that may be more skilled, and a greater player than them all?
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is the most underappreciated basketball legend of all-time.
For starters, Hakeem was drafted in 1984, just two selections before Michael Jordan, one of the best collegiate players ever. Even the Bulls GM at the time, Rod Thorn stated, “Olajuwon would have been first by anybody who picked, including me.” Yes, the Bulls would’ve taken Hakeem over Jordan if they had the chance.
But, with being drafted in the same draft as Jordan, this meant Hakeem would have to play in the same era as MJ. We all know MJ dominated the 90’s and is easily the best player of that time frame… but Hakeem is an undisputed second.
Hakeem is a 1x MVP, 2x Champion, 2x FMVP, 2x DPOY, 12x All-Star, 9x All-Defensive, and 12x All-NBA. Not to mention he’s one of the greatest shot-blockers in NBA history.
Over his 18-year career, he averaged 3.1 BPG, good for third all-time (behind Mark Eaton and Manute Bol who played significantly fewer games). Also, he averaged 11.1 RPG throughout his career, ranking 29th among players all-time.
In that case only three players above him have played the number of games Hakeem has. In terms of the entirety of a career, Hakeem ranks first for all-time blocks and ninth for all-time rebounds. He was certainly a tremendous defender, who owned the paint in such a tough, gritty era.
Just as MJ took the field and played baseball, Hakeem and the Rockets were rising to stardom winning back-to-back championships the years MJ left basketball.
There’s always the debate that Jordan could’ve gone 8/8 in the Finals, had he not left, but on the flip side, Hakeem could’ve been the one man to defeat Jordan in the Finals.
And it wasn’t the fact that Hakeem was able to win championships, it was how he did it. In his first championship run, Hakeem soared through the West, before defeating fellow-center Patrick Ewing to give Houston their first banner.
But it wasn’t the first run that was incredible, it was the second.
The Rockets found themselves at the six-seed in the 1995 NBA Playoffs against the Utah Jazz with HOFers such as John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Down 2-1 in the series Hakeem led the charge and won games in both Houston and Utah to complete the upset. Again down, this time 3-1 in the series, Hakeem led a comeback versus the two-seeded Phoenix Suns to advance to the WCF on a game-winning shot by Mario Ellie in Game 7.
After defeating the one-seeded San Antonio Spurs in six games, the Rockets were one upset away from winning a championship. This time, a young Shaquille O’Neal tried to stop the underdog.
He was no match, as Hakeem and the Rockets swept the Magic in what was one of the most magical postseason runs of all-time.
Think about the big men Olajuwon defeated in just this two-year run. Players like Charles Barkley (2x), Karl Malone (2x), David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O’Neal were no match for the league’s best player at the time.
Finally, when looking at Hakeem’s career, we have to acknowledge one of the most impressive seasons ever, as a whole. Get this. In the 1993-1994 season, Hakeem Olajuwon was:
- Finals Champion
- Finals MVP
- All-NBA First Team
- All-Defensive First Team
So, even though he may not be the greatest center or player of all-time, he certainly deserves more respect as an individual player and teammate. He’s a top ten player of all-time, yet some people and most kids, have no idea who he is.
Photo Credit: Ryne Nelson / Slam