Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...These are some of the names associated with NBA greatness....yet none of them can make the claim that Hakeem Olajuwon can...
What is that claim you ask?
The thing that separates Hakeem Olajuwon from these great players is that he is arguably the only player in NBA History to win a championship without another Hall Of Famer on his team!
Everyone knows the famous duo's and trio's. Cousy and Russell, Jordan and Pippen, Magic and Kareem, Bird, McHale, and Parish. When these NBA greats are mentioned, fond (or sometimes bitter) memories of how dominant they were are conjured.
People talk about MJ's "Flu Game" or Magic's "Baby Hook" with specific detail as if they happened yesterday. They will tell you how great these teams were in their time and recall details of following the teams throughout their triumphs and defeats.
What people don't talk about is the 93-94 season the Houston Rockets had. Or how Hakeem Olajuwon, without the aid of another Hall of Famer, was able to
be named the League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year,
lead his team past the New York Knicks to clinch the Championship,
and be awarded the Finals MVP Award after averaging 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots a game.
Taking a look at the roster it is easy to see that Olajuwon had a quality team, as any team must be to win a championship, but no real bonafide second star.
Sure there are a couple of recognizeable names on the roster. But no one you can point to and say he was the Pippen to Olajuwon's MJ.
Sam Cassell...Is he a HOF'er? In short, no. Certainly a quality player at the time with a reliable jumpshot and a good leader but definitely not a hall worthy player by any stretch of the imagination.
Mario Elie? Not even Close. Once again. A somewhat reliable Small forward with some skill, but only averaged 9.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists that season.
Robert Horry? Another quality consistent player with an earned reputation for being clutch but not someone that you would deem a shoe-in to get into the Hall of Fame by any means... (although his knack for finding himself on championship teams might be enough to one day sneak him in).
Vernon Maxwell? A decent scorer (13.6 ppg that season) who had a reputation for being an above average dunker but wasn't capable of anything that would go down in history.
Kenny Smith? Another decent scorer (11.6ppg that season) who is probably more famous for his commentary off the court than his play on it.
Otis Thorpe? The second leading scorer on the team with an average of 14ppg that season. a quality player who garnered one All-Star nod in 1992 but not much to speak of beyond that.
And finally, Scott Brooks, Carl Herrera, Matt Bullard and Eric Riley...Yeah, who? Combined, they averaged 15.3ppg.
It is common for people knowledgeable about basketball to claim the seemingly conventional wisdom, "No one can do it by themselves, everyone needed another star to win it all."
But conventional wisdom is not always right, the most popular opinion is not always fact, and there is seemingly an exception for every rule.
So the next time you reminisce about all the great tandems of yesteryear, think about Hakeem, and how beyond all conventional wisdom, he was able to lead his team to a championship without the benefit of even a 15ppg sidekick! And if that doesn't impress you, I surely don't know what will.
*Notes: Honorable Mention goes to Kobe Bryant for this years championship. He is undoubtedly a HOF'er but his team featured an inconsistent Odom, oft-injured Bynum, a better than expected but not quite star in Ariza, a very skilled 7 footer in Gasol who has only 2 all-star seasons to his credit, and Fisher, who *MIGHT* have some hall consideration being on so many championship teams and with the clutch and consistent performances he has a reputation for, but has never even been a clear second option on any championship team.
Honorable Mention goes to Tim Duncan for his last two championships with the Spurs. It remains to be seen if Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will be in the Hall Of Fame. I would say that Parker has the best chance because of his dynamic play, ability to take over games and put up big numbers, and the Finals MVP Award he was awarded for their last championship.
With those said, Hakeem's championship is still more impressive!