Hakeem Olajuwon is rightfully considered as one of the greatest centers in NBA history. The unusually skilled center was the heart and soul of the Houston Rockets, eventually leading the team to two straight NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. He is also a Hall of Famer.
Despite that the NBA has changed a lot since Olajuwon’s playing days, the center position remains a key position on the basketball court.
“The big man for any team is a diamond that everybody looks for,” says Olajuwon. “Even today, if you can find them anywhere on the globe, you bring them over. So it’s always something that everybody looks for.”
Olajuwon believes the game has been impacted by fundamentals. He also believes that is is easy for a big man to dominate the game.
“Look at the offensive end: Pound it inside and have a go-to move, and you’re going to force a double-team because no players want to guard you in the post one-on-one,” he explains. “So you’re forcing a team to double- and triple-team, and that opens up opportunity for other people. You create opportunities for teammates on the other end.”
“At the same time, offensive rebounds, finishing — you have so much impact on offense. Then, on the defensive end, it’s intimidation, the rebounding, the blocking shots, clogging the lane. There’s so much with the way that position can impact the game. And that’s not going away,” Olajuwon believes.
The Nigerian-born former NBA star believes it is important for a player to know hi role and play that role for his team. Olajuwon believes that no matter the changes in the NBA, the big man is still an important component of a plan that can help a team win.
In his own words, Hakeem Olajuwon wanted to be a complete basketball player. Even if he didn’t succeed, he sure left a big mark.
“The way I see the game is, I wanted to be a complete player. So as I’m playing against someone like Shaq (O’Neal) or Patrick (Ewing) or David (Robinson), I wanted to go outside and bring them out and cross them over,” Olajuwon says. “I didn’t want them to play their own post game — that’s their strength. But when you’re smaller than me, I’ll go inside. If you’re bigger, I’ll go inside.”
In 1994 and 1995 Olajuwon, leading the Houston Rockets, coached by Rudy Tomjanovich, won two NBA championships.
“In our system, we knew that our strength was inside and that teams would try to guard me one-on-one. So it was our responsibility to force them to double-team,” tells Olajuwon. “When they double-teamed, we had to spread the court with our shooters. So my job was to establish that inside game so that the outside guys could do their jobs: extend the court, make the 3-pointers.”
“But the problem was that if I didn’t do my job and don’t force them to double-team me, then my teammates all were affected,” Olajuwon said once to Sporting News. “So the point was to make them pay by establishing that.”
Olajuwon, like other great NBA players, has his principles and understanding of the game.
“I wouldn’t shoot 3s because, for me, 3s were a low-percentage shot,” he says. “Now, when I was playing, they didn’t want us to be taking jump shots because, if you took jump shots as a big man, they considered you soft. You should be in a paint. Inside the paint was for tough guys and big guys to mix it up. When you shoot jump shots, it’s not physical. You were settling. That’s the mentality. You can always settle. So for me to shoot 3s, I wouldn’t be helping my team. I would rather be inside or even mid-range.”
Olajuwon took enough of shots and blocked just as many to be considered among the best ever.
In 2008, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He was a 12-time NBA All-Star, and has been named the 1994 NBA MVP.
He played in 1238 NBA games (1186 started), averaging 21.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg and 3.1 bpg in 35.7 minutes of action.
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