Hakeem Olajuwon Remembered: The Best Center of All Time

John Reimold@Reimold34Contributor IApril 13, 2011

10 Jun 1994:  Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets (center) goes up for two during the NBA finals game against the New York Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Allsport  /Allsport
Getty Images/Getty Images

Never having played basketball until age 15, Hakeem Olajuwon was a natural. After relying on his athleticism to dominate at the University of Houston, the hometown Rockets made Olajuwon the number one overall selection in the 1984 NBA Draft.

The Lagos, Nigeria native dominated from the moment he stepped on an NBA floor. As a rookie he turned the Rockets from a 29-53 joke to a 48-win playoff team, as his impact could be felt from day one. 

The dominance only increased from there as he polished his skills. The trophies piled up. Six times an All-NBA first-teamer, Olajuwon was also a fixture on the NBA All-Defensive team.

The man known as “The Dream” won two Defensive Player of the Year awards. He came in second in the MVP voting in the 1992-93 campaign, and won the award in 1994. 

Averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of his first 12 seasons in the league, Hakeem's numbers are out of this world. As the NBA's all-time leading shot-blocker and eighth on the career steals list (by far the highest for a center), “The Dream” can say with conviction that he was the greatest defensive center ever.

As impressive as the numbers are, they don't do Olajuwon justice. Hakeem played the game with an elegance that had to be seen to be believed.

He had impeccable footwork on the low block and a silky-smooth jump shot. The power and grace with which he went about his business were breathtaking. On top of that he was the ultimate teammate.

Numbers are only part of what made Olajuwon so incredible, as a few other post players have put up tremendous stats. It was not only the two championships he won in 1994 and 1995; many great big men won NBA titles.

It was the way he won those championships, annihilating everyone in his path on the way to those rings that makes me say Olajuwon is the best center in the history of the game. 

For two seasons, the incredible raw athleticism Hakeem possessed joined forces with a finally 100 percent evolved skill set to devastate the league.

Hakeem took home most of the NBA's hardware in the 1993-94 season. Olajuwon became the only player in history to win the regular season MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and the Finals MVP in the same season.  

On the way to his first title, Olajuwon and the Rockets knocked out Charles Barkley and the defending Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns in seven games. In the decisive Game 7 with everything on the line, Olajuwon went for an incredible 37 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

After making short work of Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals, Houston defeated the New York Knicks in seven games to win the NBA championship.

Olajuwon could have went to jail for what he did to Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing in the series, holding the career 50 percent shooter to a miserable 36 percent from the field and outscoring him in every single contest.

The 1994-95 regular season was a tumultuous one for the Rockets, as they won only 47 games despite Olajuwon's 27.8 points per game. For the second consecutive season, "The Dream" was Houston`s lone All-Star. Receiving only the sixth seed in the west, the Rockets faced a seemingly impossible road to defend their title.

In the first round of the 1995 playoffs, the Rockets took down a 60-win Utah Jazz team despite being heavy underdogs, and in the conference semifinals they needed another seven games to defeat Barkley and the Phoenix Suns for the second straight year.

Olajuwon performed magnificently in each of the first two rounds; neither of which the Rockets were expected to win. The next series, however, is where Olajuwon went from a superstar to an immortal.

The San Antonio Spurs had the NBA's best record in 1994-95 at 62-20 and were the favorites to win the title. Their leader, regular-season MVP David Robinson received his trophy (won by Olajuwon the year before) in front of Hakeem prior to Game 2 of the series.

Big Mistake. Robinson was a terrific player, but nowhere near Olajuwon's level at that time and Olajuwon proved it by humiliating the "Admiral."

After watching the trophy celebration, Olajuwon shut everyone in San Antonio up by tossing in 41 points to go with 16 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.  He followed that up in Game 3 with 43 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. After four games, the series was tied at two games apiece.

In a pivotal Game 5 on the road against the best team in the league, “The Dream” picked up his game even more.  Forty-two points, nine rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots later, Robinson was left shaking his head.

Olajuwon had played Robinson like a puppet with a dazzling display of post moves, jump shots and crossover dribbles. He did the same in Game 6, dropping 39 and 17 to go along with five more blocks to close out the series.

The 1995 Finals were no contest. The Rockets swept the great Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic in a series in which Olajuwon outscored Shaq in every game, never scoring less than 30 points. Like Robinson and Ewing, Shaq was simply outclassed.

To put this in perspective, over his consecutive championship runs, Hakeem destroyed the three best centers in his era in Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Shaquille O'Neal. 

In 17 total matchups, Olajuwon was never outscored in a game by any of those three. During this two-year period, Olajuwon was at the peak of his powers. Offensively and defensively, it was the highest level any center has ever reached.

That is why Hakeem Olajuwon is the best center who ever played the game.