by Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport
If Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s signature skyhook was the League’s most unblockable shot, Hakeem Olajuwon’s classic “Dream Shake” was the League’s most unstoppable move. But whereas the skyhook’s substance was obvious, the subtle brilliance of Olajuwon’s patented Shake—the dizzying combination of nimble footwork and an array of intricate spin moves, jukes and fakes—wasn’t discernable to the naked eye. Still, every defender who had to stare down the former soccer player as he made his way toward the basket knew this: Embarrassment was the end result. Case in point: the Western Conference Finals in ’95. Olajuwon destroyed the San Antonio Spurs’ David Robinson, the League MVP and former Defensive Player of the Year, with an epic performance (35.3 ppg) that helped the Houston Rockets eliminate the favored Spurs en route to their second straight NBA title.
Recently, Mitchell & Ness released a throwback No. 34 jersey that Olajuwon wore in ’96-97. The former League MVP, who averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and a whopping 3.1 blocks over 18 seasons, phoned SLAM from Amman, Jordan, to talk about being picked over Michael Jordan, jerseys and why he’s the L’s most sought after low-post teacher.
SLAM: You were drafted No. 1 overall in the ’84 Draft before Michael Jordan. Ever hear any flack about that?
Hakeem Olajuwon: No. Any time in basketball you have a choice to choose a quality big man, you take the big man. Of course Michael Jordan is exceptional, but they never questioned the decision where you take a quality big man over a guard.
SLAM: Could you imagine going anywhere but Houston that day?
HO: For some reason, I had this feeling Houston was going to win the coin flip and I was gonna be in Houston. I was hoping it, and everything came through as I expected, thank God.
SLAM: How long was it before Houston fans started wearing your jersey?
HO: It was immediate because fans were wearing my jersey from my Phi Slama Jama days. When you see fans wearing your jersey, showing that loyalty, it puts a soft spot in your heart because they honored you with wearing your number. They’re showing you that you are their favorite player so you feel so special and you want to treat them special also because they chose you as their favorite player.
SLAM: Mitchell & Ness recently released one of your old jerseys. What’s that mean to you?
HO: Any time the basketball world reflects on a player’s career, there’s no question that it’s a big honor. I feel so privileged that I’ve made that much of an impact in basketball. When you hear people compliment you and rank you among the elite players that played the game, it’s humbling and mindboggling.
SLAM: How did you develop your great Dream Shake move?
HO: It was a development of movement from playing soccer. It didn’t translate into basketball until later on in my career when it became more instinctive. When my opponent is not giving me anything, my first reaction is to read what the defense is giving me and take it, that’s the efficiency of a player able to read what he’s given and take it. If you give me a jump shot, I’m going to take it; if you get physical, I’m going to spin off; if you are undecided, I will force you commit to something. So basketball is a very intelligent game, you have to be very precise in your decisions.
SLAM: Players flock to you for tutelage in the offseason. What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught them?
HO: From a basketball perspective, I teach them the joy of turning basketball into a science. For example, if you know about construction and engineering, if you want to do some remodeling and you have a load-bearing wall, you cannot move it. But when you have a column that’s not load-bearing, there’s lots of possibilities because it moves. So when we create a move in basketball, you make a player shift his weight to his load-bearing leg and then you attack that leg because now he cannot move. When I work with young players and see the expressions on their face, it’s a true joy for me. They realize that basketball is a science.