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Shaquille O’Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon Career Highs Comparison

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Shaquille O’Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon Career Highs Comparison

Two of the most outstanding big men to ever play the game are Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal. Both were dominant in their respective times, taking home multiple championships and multiple Finals MVP awards at the height of their careers. Shaq controlled the late 90s and early 2000s as the most unstoppable force in the entire NBA. His dominance resulted in 4 NBA championships from 2000 to 2006, including a three-peat alongside Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Meanwhile, Hakeem Olajuwon was super skilled and controlled the pace from start to finish on offense and defense. His reign atop the NBA was in the mid-90s, including back-to-back NBA championships and Finals MVP awards in 1994 and 1995. His 1995 championship run concluded with a 4-0 beatdown of O’Neal and the Orlando Magic before Shaq hit his true peak. Olajuwon is one of the most complete players to ever play the center position.

So what happens when you match up skill vs. brute strength and pure dominance? We take a look by comparing these two legends using their career-high stats in a game.


Points

Shaquille O’Neal - 61 Points (Lakers vs. Clippers, March 6, 2000)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 52 Points (Rockets vs. Nuggets, April 19, 1990)

The story of Shaquille O’Neal's career-high 62 points back in 2000 is quite entertaining. Shaq and the Lakers were ready to go to battle with their in-town rival, the Los Angeles Clippers. Shaq arrived at the game and asked for some tickets to the game for his family and a few friends but was promptly denied. Feeling disrespected, considering he had brought so much prominence to LA basketball, Shaq went out and completely punished the Clippers for what had transpired.

He recorded 61 points and 23 rebounds on 24-35 from the field and 13-22 from the foul line. He could be seen yelling over to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was an assistant with the Clippers at the time, after every bucket. I think it’s safe to say the Clippers never directed Shaq again.

Hakeem Olajuwon’s career-high 52 points came on an April evening back in 1990. Olajuwon was matched up with Denver’s Joe Barry Carroll at the start and quickly went to work on the offense. Carroll only lasted 18 minutes as the starter on the floor while Olajuwon made him look lost. 

Denver tried to throw Danny Schayes and Blair Rasmussen at Hakeem as well but to no avail. Olajuwon finished with 52 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. Hakeem shot 61.8% from the floor overall and 10-13 from the free throw line.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal


Rebounds

Shaquille O’Neal - 28 Rebounds (Magic vs. Nets, November 20, 1993)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 25 Rebounds (Rockets vs. Knicks, February 14, 1985), (Rockets vs. Nuggets, March 5, 1985), (Rockets vs. Knicks, February 21, 1989), (Rockets vs. Magic, December 17, 1989), (Rockets vs. Pistons, February 27, 1990)

Shaq’s 28-rebound performance came when he was just in his 2nd season at 21 years old. He was still with the Orlando Magic at the time and already a force to be reckoned with. Shaq was matched up with the New Jersey Nets and their dynamic big men Derrick Coleman and P.J. Brown. 

O’Neal willed the Magic to an 87-85 victory with an incredible performance on offense and defense. In the win, O’Neal recorded 24 points, 28 rebounds, and a remarkable 15 blocks. O’Neal was named an All-Star and averaged 29.3 PPG and 13.2 RPG on the season.

Olajuwon achieved his career-high 25 rebounds 5 different times in his career. He recorded 25 rebounds twice in 1985, twice in 1989, and twice in a game against the New York Knicks. 

The games against the New York Knicks were a week shy of one year to the day of each other. Surprisingly, Hakeem’s Rockets held just a 2-3 record in the games that Olajuwon recorded 25 rebounds. For his career, Olajuwon recorded 48 total games in which he grabbed 20 rebounds or more.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal


Assists

Shaquille O’Neal - 10 Assists (Heat vs. Raptors, April 11, 2006)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 12 Assists (Rockets vs. Warriors, December 1, 1994)

Considering his playmaking was much better when he was a member of the Magic and Lakers, you would expect Shaq’s 10 assists came earlier in his career. Shaq’s 10-assist game would come in 2006 with the Miami Heat alongside Dwyane Wade. Shaq recorded a triple-double in this contest with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes of action.

That is significant because Shaq only recorded 2 triple-doubles in his entire career, and this was the final time he did it. The Heat would win the game 106-97 and go on to capture the NBA championship this season as well.

Hakeem Olajuwon was always a skilled playmaker during his time with the Houston Rockets. Olajuwon’s 12-assist game was just the second double-digit assist game of his career. He recorded just 5 such games in his playing days. Olajuwon’s game was also a triple-double performance as he added 37 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Olajuwon leads Shaq in that category as well, recording 14 triple-doubles for the entirety of his career. In this game, the Rockets emerged victorious 113-109. Shaq and Olajuwon shared an eerie similarity with their career-high assists game in that Olajuwon also went on to win an NBA championship in the same year.

Advantage: Hakeem Olajuwon


Steals

Shaquille O’Neal - 5 Steals (Magic vs. Clippers, December 3, 1992), (Magic vs. Nets, March 27, 1993), (Lakers vs. Magic, December 6, 1996)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 8 Steals (Rockets vs. Cavaliers, November 19, 1987), (Rockets vs. Heat, April 8, 1989), (Rockets vs. Clippers, November 27, 1990)

Shaq was a tremendous interior defender but not known for disrupting passing lanes and collecting steals. Nevertheless, Shaq recorded 3 separate games with 5 steals in his career. He did it twice as a member of the Orlando Magic and once with the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq’s games with the Lakers, where he collected 5 steals, have significance because he recorded it in a 92-81 win over his former team, the Magic. Shaq punished his former team in the victory, adding 25 points, 18 rebounds, and 7 blocks.

As for Olajuwon, he was more known for being a master disruptor on defense. He was a pest both in the interior and perimeter, recording 8 steals in 3 different games in his career. Olajuwon last recorded 8 steals in a game back in 1990 against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Rockets needed every bit of Hakeem’s performance to squeak out a 107-102 win. Olajuwon also recorded 34 points and 20 rebounds in the same game.

Advantage: Hakeem Olajuwon


Blocks

Shaquille O’Neal - 15 Blocks (Magic vs. Nets, November 20, 1993)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 12 Blocks (Rockets vs. SuperSonics, March 10, 1987), (Rockets vs. Jazz, November 11, 1989)

As previously discussed, Shaq recorded his career-high in blocks on the same night that he recorded his career-high in rebounds. Surprisingly, O’Neal never matched or exceed his single-game high in blocks considering his dominance of the early 2000s.

This matchup was Shaq’s first career triple-double out of two, and the only time he recorded one with double-digit blocks. Even at a young age, O’Neal was bullying opponents at the center position just as he did to P.J. Brown and Derrick Coleman in this game.

Olajuwon achieved his career-high in blocks, both in games that occurred in the late 80s. The first one occurred in 1987 in a matchup with the Seattle SuperSonics. Despite 38 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 blocks, the Rockets dropped the game 136-127. Tom Chamber and Dale Ellis combined for 79 points for Seattle.

The 2nd time Hakeem recorded 12 blocks, the Rockets picked up the win. Olajuwon recorded 24 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 blocks in the win over the Utah Jazz.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal


3-Pointers Made

Shaquille O’Neal - 1 3-Pointer Made (Magic vs. Bucks, February 16, 1996)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 1 3-Pointer Made (Recorded 25 Times, Last Recorded: Rockets vs. Clippers, April 23, 1999)

Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon were never considered threats to knock down shots from the outside. Hakeem was a little bit more of a threat to shoot with his ability to knock down a mid-range shot, whereas Shaq did all of his work around the basket. 

Shaq connected on just 1 three-pointer in his career, and it occurred during his final season with the Orlando Magic. The Magic blew out the Bucks 121-101 in the game, and Shaq added 31 points and 10 rebounds in the contest.

Olajuwon, on the other hand, had a little bit more of a trigger finger than Shaq. He connected on 25 three-pointers in his career. Hakeem connected on 25 shots from deep in his career on 124 attempts (20.2%). In the 1993-94 season, when Olajuwon earned his first championship, he went 8-19 on the season from 3, which was a nice rate at 41.0%. The final time that Olajuwon would drain 1 three-pointer in a game would be in 1999 in a 106-101 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Eric Piatkowski and Maurice Taylor combined for 57 points for LA in the win.

Advantage: Even


Field Goals Made

Shaquille O’Neal - 24 Field Goals Made (Lakers vs. Clippers, March 6, 2000)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 24 Field Goals Made (Rockets vs. Nuggets, January 30, 1997)

Once again, we are back to Shaq’s vendetta game against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2000. Shaq poured in 24 shots against the Clippers on 35 attempts, good for 68.6% shooting on the night. Shaq was able to get everything he wanted which was a microcosm of the entire 2000 season for the big man. The 1999-00 season was one of the most dominant in NBA history from Shaq. He averaged 29.7 PPG, which led the league, and he also averaged 13.6 RPG and 3.0 BPG. Shaq would take home the MVP award, the All-Star Game MVP award, and most importantly, the Finals MVP award with his first NBA title.

Hakeem Olajuwon’s career-high in field goals made coincidentally did not come in the game in which he scored his career-high in points. Both performances did come against the Denver Nuggets, but 7 seasons apart. In this contest, Olajuwon went 24-40 from the field for 48 points and 10 rebounds. He did not take a single attempt from the free throw line. The Nuggets would have the last laugh as they pulled out the win behind 68 combined points from LaPhonso Ellis, Dale Ellis, and Ricky Pierce.

Advantage: Even


Free Throws Made

Shaquille O’Neal - 19 Free Throws Made (Lakers vs. Bulls, November 19, 1999)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 17 Free Throws Made (Rockets vs. Jazz, January 10, 1993)

Shaquille O’Neal has been the butt of free throw jokes for his entire career and beyond. It makes sense that he was roasted for his inability at the foul line as Shaq is just a 50.4% career shooter from there. On this night, things were a little different from the Lakers center. O’Neal took a total of 31 attempts from the foul line on this night, hitting 19 of them for 61.3%. Shaq would finish with 41 points and 17 rebounds in a 103-95 victory over the newly Michael Jordan-less Bulls.

For his career, Hakeem Olajuwon was much more efficient than Shaq was from the foul line at 71.2% shooting. In a 1993 game against the Utah Jazz, Olajuwon was much more efficient than his average dictates. Hakeem went 17-19 from the line on this night which is a percentage of 89.5%. He finished with 35 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 blocks in the game. The Rockets would pull out the victory 97-90 even though the Rockets' next highest scorer was Robert Horry with 12 points.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal


Turnovers

Shaquille O’Neal - 9 Turnovers (Magic vs. 76ers, January 18, 1993), (Heat vs.Wizards, November 9, 2004), (Heat vs. 76ers, April 14, 2005)

Hakeem Olajuwon - 11 Turnovers (Rockets vs. Nuggets, April 19, 1990)

Shaq and Hakeem Olajuwon were never ones to commit a big amount of turnovers. Shaq achieved his 9 turnovers in a game 3 times in his career, but with context around it, it doesn’t look all that bad. The first time he did it, he was just a rookie with the Magic, and the next 2 times were toward the tail end of his career, just before he won a championship with the Miami Heat. In games that O’Neal recorded 9 turnovers, his teams were 1-2.

Another game against the Denver Nuggets, another career-high from Hakeem Olajuwon. This time, it came in a 130-127 loss. Hakeem did everything he could in a game in which he poured in his career-high 52 points to go with 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. The Rockets on this night could not make up for the 22 points from Denver’s Fat Lever and 21 from Michael Adams. Olajuwon recorded just 3 games in his career with double-digit turnovers.

Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal


Two Elite Legends, Too Close To Call

When most NBA fans and media pundits compare these two all-time greats, they always seem to point to Hakeem’s domination of Shaq in the 1995 NBA Finals. Hakeem and the Rockets swept O’Neal and the Magic in 4 games in 1995. Olajuwon won Finals MVP behind 32.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 2.0 BPG from Hakeem. Shaq didn't exactly fold in the series going for 28.0 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, and 2.5 BPG. The comparison between these two goes far beyond just one series.

Olajuwon and Shaq ran into each other in the Finals a few years before O’Neal was at his most dominant peak. The truth is that both of these guys dominated their era in incredible ways. Hakeem won an MVP, 2 Finals MVPs, and 2 Defensive Player Of The Year awards during his time. Shaq, on the other hand, took home 4 championships, 3 Finals MVPs, and an MVP award during his peak. When debating who is better between these two, you're pretty much splitting hairs when you factor in skill, talent, and two-way abilities along with the accolades. Regardless of who your choice is, these are two of the greatest to ever grace the hardwood at the center position and you cannot tell the NBA’s story without either of them.

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