By M. Goncalves
When listing the best centers in the history of the NBA, one usually thinks of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and of course, the one and only, unstoppable and dominant Hakeem Olajuwon. Olajuwon was selected first overall in the 1984 by the Houston Rockets, ahead of arguably the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, who was selected third overall by the Chicago Bulls. Hakeem was coming off his third season at the University of Houston and huge expectations lay on him to be a positively impactful player right away. During his rookie season, Olajuwon did exactly that, he averaged 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, fantastic stats for an NBA player, let alone a rookie! Despite his truly elite averages, Hakeem lost the rookie of the year race to Michael Jordan, who averaged 28.2 points per game, to put these extraordinary numbers in perspective with the NBA today, Jordan would rank 7th in the league in scoring, as a rookie. Understandably so, Olajuwon was not awarded rookie of the year but every team across the league knew this young man was a force to be reckoned with.
Over the next few seasons, Hakeem would terrorize the league with his overwhelming size, unmatched footwork, and tremendous touch for the ball near the basket. He gathered accolades multiple times throughout his career; the awards he received are as follows: 1994 MVP, 2-time defensive player of the year (1993 and 1994), 2-time NBA champion and Finals MVP (1994 and 1995), 12 all-star selections, 12 all NBA selections and others. Standing at 2.14 meters and a wingspan of 2.29 meters, Olajuwon made it merely impossible for defenders to score on him inside the paint or grab a rebound whenever he was in the vicinity. Furthermore, he was unguardable on offense, not a single player could stop him, the best of the best could contain him, but no one could stop him. Only in the rarest of occasions was Hakeem not the tallest player on the court and even when he wasn’t, the difference was minimal. Combining his massive frame with his astonishing foot work and body control, Hakeem showed the world a move that no one will ever be able to execute as he did. The ‘dream shake’ was a combination of jab steps, spin fakes and shot fakes that ended with Hakeem stretching his arm above all else and flicking his wrist on a hook shot that was essentially a guarantee to score every time. This memorable move is what gave this uniquely talented player the name ‘Hakeem the dream’.
Nowadays, players try to replicate this unstoppable move but often end up losing control and missing, travelling, or getting their shot blocked, because they lack Hakeem’s poise, patience, footwork, and touch. To this day, Hakeem the dream remains the Houston Rockets’ all-time leader in points, rebounds, and blocks and his jersey number is retired, meaning no member of the Rockets will ever wear the iconic number 34. Throughout his 18-year NBA career, Olajuwon solidified himself as a hall of famer and a generational type of talent, it will take a huge amount of luck for any fan to ever be able to witness a game like Hakeem’s once again on a nightly basis. The series of moves and fakes that Hakeem executed to perfection on the post had him go down as a prolific, efficient and dominant offensive prowess, his defensive ability had him go down as tenacious, disruptive and the player any coach dreams of having on their team.