Michael Jordan claimed that Hakeem Olajuwon was not a top tier center in the NBA during their playing days back in 1996.
Michael Jordan was undoubtedly the most dominant force in the NBA for over a decade. He achieved this by standing no taller than 6’6; a height that usually did not result in players locking down the entirety of the league in terms of winning titles. The Chicago Bulls were an interesting case study for how the game has now evolved into needing spacing and switchable, versatile defenders.
For nearly 40 years, the NBA was run by either athletic 7-footers like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, or 7-footers with impeccable back-to-the-basket game like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Kevin McHale. Guys like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird brought about the element of pure skill to the NBA and made sure it never left.
Hakeem Olajuwon was an interesting center to say the least as he combined the two aforementioned categories for centers. He was incredibly proficient in his back to the backet game and was very athletic. However, he added a 3rd element to his game and that was to take his opponents off the dribble. Michael Jordan refers to this when talking about Hakeem.
Michael Jordan offers up an interesting take on Hakeem Olajuwon.
Though Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon entered the league in the same draft, their fates within the NBA were never really intertwined. They would never face off against one another in the Playoffs and Hakeem would win his only two rings in the two years that MJ tried out baseball.
En route to a record-breaking 72-win season in 1996, Michael Jordan talked about how the game has been evolving over time. It was here that he provided us with a rather interesting opinion on Hakeem Olajuwon.
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“Just a bunch of small, versatile guys playing different positions. That’s the way the game is going. The dominant center is starting to get eliminated. You haven’t had a dominant center win a championship in 8 years, and don’t talk about Olajuwon. He’s a small forward playing center.”
Highlights of Hakeem Olajuwon taking the defenders off the dribble from the perimeter are truly a sight to see. He was the blueprint for guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bam Adebayo.