Rockets and NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon authored a piece for The Players Tribune that discusses the current NBA small ball phenomenon, how he sees pieces of himself in the diversifying and nebulous position trends of today's game, and also gives some great quotes on a few of his contemporaries.
Olajuwon has always been one of the more thoughtful and insightful players I've ever had the pleasure to watch. It's part of what made him so compelling a figure to me as a teenager. Not only was he the best player on the planet, he also carried a scholarly grace that made him an easy player to love.
Sure, it wasn't always that way. It's no secret that Olajuwon's early career was marred with the occasional fight, a bad temper and moodiness. But the player he became, and the version I most fondly recall, is the one who not only dominated on the court by squashing every other great center of his era when it mattered most, but one who also exhibited the type of poise and leadership a young sports fiend could easily look up to. He was, indeed, The Dream.
It comes as no surprise then, to get such a fascinating piece from such a fascinating player. Yes, it was likely ghost written, but the thoughts are undeniably Olajuwon's when you see them, and the article is a must read.
On the Seattle Supersonics:
"The Sonics always gave us trouble. It was Gary... How was this little guard doing so much damage in the paint? I always thought of myself as a guard in a big man's body. Maybe that's why I respected Gary's game so much. He never wanted to be just a guard. And I never wanted to just be a traditional center."
On being one of the first to develop his game to more than just a traditional center:
"I developed my outside game. I didn't just do big man drills. I worked on my dribbling and my mid-range jumper. I worked on my passing and my footwork. If I had a slower guy guarding me, I'd draw him outside of his element. I could get an easy jumper or I could cross him over and beat him to the rim. If he was smaller, I'd get position inside and post him up."
On Shaquille O'neal:
"Shaq was a beast. If you let him get position, it was over. I'd be yelling at the ref, "Three seconds, three seconds! He won't move!" There won't ever be someone with Shaq's combination of size and skill."
On Yao Ming:
"Yao Ming is another unique post player. I didn't ever play against him, but he worked out with me in Houston. When he showed up for his first workout, the first thing he did was show me all of my moves, one by one. He had been studying them. Yao had a very soft touch and some of the best footwork of a big man that I've seen."
On the end of the era of the big man:
"People ask me, 'Is the era of the dominant big man over?' They wonder if small ball will make the NBA a shooting guard's league. But if you only look at sharp shooters like Steph Curry and Klay, you miss what's going on. These guys are special, but they're not the norm. Small ball has made stars out of traditional guards, but in my mind, the biggest thing it has done is to liberate big men from their traditional duties. They're no longer stuck in the paint.
Small ball won't eliminate big men, but it might eliminate our old ideas of positions."
Make sure you check out the rest of Hakeem's piece for The Players Tribune. Dream gives a little on Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Michael Jordan and more. Absolutely worth the few minutes for any NBA fan, let alone a Rockets or Olajuwon fan.