We often forget that Michael Jordan was not a No. 1 overall pick. Despite everything he accomplished, he will never be No. 1 in the 1984 NBA Draft. That honor belongs to the great Hakeem Olajuwon. The first overall pick did play a backseat to the No. 3 overall pick in Jordan until Jordan left the league in the summer of 1993.
With Jordan out of the picture, Olajuwon quickly jumped up as the face of the league. The Houston Rockets won the first of their back-to-back championships with Olajuwon winning MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP. Had Olajuwon been able to score a few more points each night, he would have had a perfect season.
1994 NBA Champion
Olajuwon led the Rockets to the NBA Finals against the New York Knicks. You had both teams finally coming out from the shadow of Michael Jordan, ready to win a title after Jordan’s Bulls won from 1991 to 1993. The Finals were an entertaining one for sure as the seven-game series pitted the two best overall centers in the league in Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing.
After trailing 2-1, the Knicks won two straight games to take a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, the Rockets held an 86-84 lead in the final seconds. Knicks guard John Starks, who finished the game with 27 points, took what would have been a game-winning, and series-clinching, three-point shot. Olajuwon pulled off the clutch block as time expired. Then, in Game 7, he closed out the series with a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds to bring the city of Houston their first championship since the days of the Oilers and the American Football League in 1961.
1994 Finals MVP
In the head-to-head matchup with Ewing, Olajuwon dominated. He outscored Ewing in every game of the series. On top of that, Oljauon averaged 26.9 points on 50% shooting compared to Ewing’s 18.9 points and 36.3% shooting. With his first championship ring, he added a Finals MVP as well.
There was not a better player than Olajuwon in this series. We should also take into account that Olajuwon also bested Charles Barkley and Karl Malone to even get to the NBA Finals, with the Suns’ series going seven games as well.
The Rockets tied a record set in 1948 by the Washington Capitols when the team started the season with 15 straight victories. The Rockets started the season 22-1 before clinching the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a 58-24 record. For his efforts, he was named MVP, which made him the first foreign-born player to win such an award.
Olajuwon ranked third in points per game, sixth in rebounds, second in blocks, and was the leader in the NBA in two-point field goals. He was the game’s best overall center in a time where the center position was the cream of the crop. There was a really good case for David Robinson winning this award after leading the league in points per game and owning six more win shares than Olajuwon, but the Spurs were the No. 4 seed in the West.
Defensive Player of the Year
Patrick Ewing led the league in defensive win shares with 8.0. Who was second you ask? Hakeem Olajuwon with a tight 7.9. Olajuwon was second to block king Dikembe Mutombo, as well as second in defensive rebounding to Dennis Rodman. While the Rockets weren’t the best overall defensive team in the league, they were pretty close thanks to their All-Defensive First Team center anchoring the middle.
All-NBA First Team
Olajuwon gained a reputation as being a clutch player in the league this season. He also broke out as one of the top centers in the history of the game based on his performance in 1993-1994. He outplayed centers such as Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dikembe Mutombo. That also includes defensive specialists Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone.
3rd In Scoring Race - Missed Leader David Robinson By 2.5 Points
Olajuwon had a successful season with a stat line of 27.3 points per game, but he just missed David Robinson in the very end. After all, it took 71 points from Robinson in the final game of the season to capture the title. This was one of the most interesting races for the scoring award. Robinson averaged 29.8 PPG, Shaq was second with 29.3 PPG, and Hakeem was third with 27.3 PPG.
It’s wild to think that Olajuwon was a field goal, and potentially a free throw, each night away from a perfect season. With that said, that is a lot easier to say than do. In the end, Olajuwon was the best this year winning nearly every award and his first championship.