THE NIGERIAN PLAYER
WHO CONQUERED THE NBA
Text by: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
The extraordinary Nigerian center Hakeem Olajuwon, twice champion of NBA (1993-1994 and 1994-1995, with Rudy Tomjanovich as a head coach) is considered the best all time center regarding his individual technique, movements speed and his wondrous jumping talent.
Born in January 1st 1963 in Lagos (Nigeria), his prodigious athletic virtues and his remarkable dynamism for its big height made that being 17 years old he was a player for the absolute Nigerian National Basketball Team, making such a progress that very soon he travelled to USA to play within Houston University team, where he would cause a great impact.
In their three last seasons in Houston, Olajuwon led the Cougars, taking them to three-in-a-row NCAA Final Four and two final matches of the tournament: in 1983 facing the North Caroline State Wolfpack (with Jim Valvano as a head coach and Lorenzo Charles as a star), lost by Houston 54-52 in the last second and the one in 1984 against Georgetown Hoyas (with John Thompson as a head coach and Pat Ewing in a great condition) that they would also lose 84-75.
Nevertheless, Olajuwon was chosen MVP of the Tournament in 1983.
The displays of strength, agility, quickness and intimidation power of the Nigerian center had been such that the head coach of NBA team Houston Rockets used him as a sparring for the brutal Moses Malone, to whom Olajuwon faced with notable effectiveness.
Since his first year as a rookie in 1984 (when he was elected nº 1 of the draft by Houston Rockets), Olajuwon has never averaged less than 20 points or 10 rebounds per game.
His feline movements speed for his 115 kg (more inherent to a European FIBA small forward or guard-small forward), his great feet play, his giddy turns in unforeseeable directions for his defenders, his creativiness in limit situations, his basket penetration feints, his legendary fadeaway jumping (a peculiar shot of his own, leaping, specially in half turn and leaning backwards very much to avoid his opponents´ block-shots), his imposing slam dunks, his ability for fast break and his very accurate middle range distance shots up to 5.5 m, made that with ´only´ 2,13 m he overwhelmed many taller and heavier than him centers as Mark Eaton, Dikembe Mutombo, Rick Smits, Shaquille O´Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, etc.
He was the first player in NBA history scoring more than 200 stealths and 200 block-shots in the same season and he´s so extremely endowed for the attack and defense that he is the only professional in NBA history having been within top ten in scoring, rebounds, block-shots and stealths in three different seasons, becoming into one of the three only players of NBA scoring 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 1,000 assists, stealths and block-shots through all of its career.
During 1993-94 season, in which Houston Rockets would win an NBA Championship for the first time (against New York Knicks in a very tight seven games Final, with Pat Ewing, Derek Harper, John Starks and Charles Oakley with the knife between their teeth), Olajuwon became into the first player being elected NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the NBA and NBA Series Finals MVP.
And the following season, 1994-95, he also got the NBA Championship, turning Houston in one of the five franchises that have ever won back-to-back titles.
Already before, Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson (2,25 m) made up the legendary Houston Rockets Twin Towers, the terror under the hoops of NBA, making their way to the Finals in the season 1985-86, being defeated by Larry Bird´s Boston Celtics.
But let´s see which have been the main exploits of this stellar NBA figure:
1. In 1984, his year as a rookie, he averaged 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per
game, with a field goal percentage of 53.8%.
2. Extraordinary performance in the fifth playoff match of 1985-1986 season in
NBA Finals against Boston Celtics, with 32 points and eight block-shots!, winning 111-96.
3. He was chosen for the first team NBA All Defensive in 1987-88 and 1990
and as a starting center of Western Conference in 1987, 88, 89 and 90 All
4. On April 31st 1988, vs San Antonio Spurs, he achieved 10 block-shots!, as a
part of a triple double also including 38 points and ten rebounds.
5. During 1988 playoffs, against Dallas Mavericks, he made an average of 35.5
points and 16.8 rebounds per game.
6. In the 1989 All Star Game at Houston Astrodrome, he scored 21 points.
7. He won the title as a NBA top rebounder in 1989 and 1990, averaging 13.5
and 14 rebounds respectively.
8. In 1989, he became into the first player finishing as NBA top ten scoring
(24.8 points per game; 10º), rebounds (13.5; 1º), stealths (2.60; 6º) and
block-shots (3.44; 4º) during two successive seasons.
9. He was the NBA block-shots leader in 1990 (4.59 per game) and in 1991
(3.95 per game).
10. On March 29th 1990, Olajuwon joined Nate Thurmond and Alvin Robertson
as the only player in NBA history scoring a quadruple double, because in a game vs Milwaukee Bucks he scored 18 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, put 11 block-shots and gave 10 assists!
- In 1990, in the first round of playoffs against Los Angeles Lakers, he put
ten block-shots in the second game, an unsurpassed record in playoffs.
11. On February 11th 1992, vs Seattle Supersonics, he finished with a 40 points
and 19 rebounds! card.
12. During 1992-1993 season, he averaged 26,1 points per game, 13 rebounds
and 4,17 block-shots, taking the lead in NBA regarding block-shots for the
third time in four seasons, being awarded with the IBM Prize for his global
contribution to his team success.
13. In 1993 he was appointed Best Defensive Player of the Year.
14. During his great season 1994-95, he averaged 27.8 points, 10,8 rebounds,
3.36 block-shots, 3.5 assists and 1.85 stealths per game.
15. He attained the tenth triple double in his career on December 1st 1995, with
37 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists vs Golden State Warriors.
15. During that season, he scored more than 40 points in different games, two of them being specially outstanding: on January 13th 1995 facing San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference, being very brilliant his efficiency and output against David Robinson (the center of the Texan franchise), averaging 35,3 points per game
© Copyright Text: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
But perhaps his most glorious moment arrived during the 1994-95 NBA Finals, when he had to fight against an emergent Shaquille O´ Neal (2,16 m and a weight of 138 kg and undoubtedly the biggest beast in universal basketball at that moment), fairly stopping him with his superior individual technique and speed, averaging 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game and winning his second NBA Finals MVP Trophy.
It was of paramount importance the contracting of Clyde ´The Glide´ Drexler, one of the fastest and most athletic players in NBA, that opened a lot of spaces to Hakeem and the great game reading by Sam Cassell and Kenny Smith, together with the defensive intensity of Robert Horry (a great three pointer shooter), Otis Thorpe´s strength in rebound and the quickness of Vernon Maxwell, Mario Elie and Carl Herrera.
Hakeem Olajuwon, supreme monarch of the block-shot, has been the most terrifying block-shot specialist in NBA and everything gives one a lot of hints that if he had played in FIBA European Basketball Championship in his apogee stage, he would have easily averaged 12 or 14 block-shots per game, probably exceeding 20 in
some of them.