Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal are two of the greatest big men in the history of the NBA. The two giants had incredibly illustrious careers, having a very similar career trajectory in terms of the amount of time it took them to win their first NBA championships.
Both Shaq and Olajuwon lost in their first go-around in the NBA Finals. Hakeem and the Rockets lost to the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals, just 2 seasons after entering the league in 1984 as the number one overall pick in that year's draft class.
As for Shaq, he also lost his first NBA Finals, just 3 years after entering the league. Shaq led the Magic to the NBA Finals, even defeating Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in their playoff run that year.
In fact, Shaq and the Magic were the last players in NBA history to beat Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in a playoff series, a fact Shaq takes incredible pride in. Ironically, he was beaten in the NBA Finals by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in 1995.
Both players are considered pivotal players in the history of the league. Shaq went on to win 4 NBA championships in his career, whereas Hakeem won 2 consecutive NBA championships during his time. But the debate has always existed about which player is better.
According to Gary Payton, Hakeem was the better player between the two. In a recent interview, he mentioned that he believed Hakeem to be the more skilled between the pair, and the more versatile. Whereas he thought O'Neal was the more dominant of the two.
Payton also mentioned that Shaq struggled when he had to play against Hakeem and Yao Ming, and they were the two players he could not get the better of.
“I think Dream was way way better, and Shaq had a lot of power. Dream was way better. That’s my opinion. The Dream had a lot of shake and bake. He could fadeaway on you. He shot free throws, he did a lot more. Shaq was more of a dominant basketball player. I’mma give it to Dream. Dream could run the floor really well. Shaq could run… but then he became a player that you put him on the block and we had to double him because he was so strong. With the Dream, Shaq couldn’t guard Dream. Shaq couldn’t guard Yao Ming. The two players he couldn’t deal with them. He couldn’t deal with Yao Ming because he couldn’t move Yao Ming. He could go through Dream, but Dream would work him.”
Payton's comments come as a bit of a surprise. He played alongside Shaq with the Lakers and the Heat, even winning a championship with 'The Diesel' in 2006. But clearly, he feared Hakeem more because of the battles they had with each other during the course of their career.
Even Michael Jordan acknowledged the greatness of his fellow draft class star, saying that Hakeem's skill was that of a small forward playing at center.
Olajuwon's name commands a lot of respect in the league, as does Shaq's. And while Payton won a championship with Shaq, he holds Hakeem in higher regard when it comes to the all-time rankings.