Quick…name the best centers to ever play in the N.B.A. I’ll give you a second. I’m sure the names included Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and maybe Shaquille O’Neal. They’re solid choices, but there’s a man that should be near the front of the list but never gets the credit he’s due – today’s birthday boy, Hakeem Olajuwon. “The Dream” was the most dominant of his era and somehow we forget that.
Olajuwon announced his presence with authority when he entered the league. As a rookie in 1984, he led the Houston Rockets to 48 wins and the playoffs after the team won just 29 games the season before. Things just got better from there. Two Defensive Player of the Year awards followed as well as by the 1994 MVP. He currently resides at the top of the list for all-time shot blockers and is eighth in steals. There’s not even another true center in the top 25!
Many great players have Hall of Fame numbers. Many have championships. What makes Hakeem stand apart is how he defeated those opponents considered the best during his career. He obliterated them. Behind their great center, Houston won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. In the run to the first championship, the Rockets took out Charles Barkley and the Suns followed by Karl Malone and the Jazz. In the Finals, he dominated Patrick Ewing, holding him to 36 percent shooting (career 50 percent) and outscored him in every game, averaging 26.8 points over the 7-game series.
The next season’s playoff run saw Olajuwon’s most dominating performance. San Antonio’s David Robinson won the MVP after leading the Spurs to the best record in the league and the number one seed in the West. Someone thought it would be a good idea to present him the award prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against Houston. In front of Hakeem. Big mistake. After witnessing the ceremony, Olajuwon knocked “The Admiral” down to Private by going for 41 points and 16 rebounds. In Game 3, he had 43 points and 11 rebounds. The series was tied at 2 games apiece and the Spurs didn’t have a chance. Hakeem and the Rockets closed out the series with him going for 42 points and 9 rebounds then 39 and 17 with 5 blocks to win the Western Conference championship. The NBA Finals against Shaq and the Magic was a sweep with Olajuwon outscoring the Diesel in every game while putting up more than 30 points in each. Over the two-year championship stretch, Hakeem annihilated the centers that were considered the best of his time – Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal. Not one outscored him in any games they played against him.
So, next time someone talks about the greatest centers to play the game, make sure they “Dream Shake” themselves and mention Hakeem Olajuwon.