NBA / Mar 28, 2011 / 11:00 am

Dwight Howard, Channeling Hakeem Olajuwon, Could Alter History

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard (photo. adidas)

Legendary. That’s what it was, all it was. That’s how everyone chooses to remember it. That’s the only word Rudy Tomjanovich used to describe it. It was a performance, a six-game odyssey that shocked nearly everyone. Before the championships, before the odd-year title runs, before Tim Duncan, there was a harsh judgment and that attitude was forming here. Too timid. Soft. Sound familiar? One team, but more specifically one man, reshaped history, changed time.

It was a dream. It was The Dream.

Why bring all of this back up now? First of all, there’s never a bad time to highlight Hakeem Olajuwon. In the 1995 Western Conference Finals, he averaged 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.1 blocks and 1.3 steals a game against the man the NBA named it’s most valuable player at the start of the series, David Robinson. Olajuwon’s response was a right-hand hook to the chin. This is my award, he was scolding Robinson all series long. You’re lucky to have it.

“It was the most dominating performance by a player that I was ever witness to,” Spurs’ forward Sean Elliott said later. It also altered history; if that series never happens, no one is arguing whether or not Robinson deserved the MVP award that year. And that’s just sad, considering the series was an entirely different animal than what the award was based on. The award was his. He earned it. The two entities aren’t brothers. They aren’t even distant cousins. It’s all unrelated.

More importantly, this season’s MVP race, which has boiled down to Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard (LeBron has already dug his own grave), could end up mirroring that incredible 1995 Western Conference Final. Why? Let me explain.

No two players are more different than Rose and Howard. They will never guard each other. They will never have the same role. The opposites are too obvious to dwell on. But, they are both finishers and they are both leaders of two of the best Eastern Conference teams, and will meet up in the second round of the playoffs if the Bulls hold onto the No. 1 seed and the Magic beat up on the Hawks in the first round.

What happens if Howard goes out and starts dropping 40-20 games against the Bulls in that series? What if he ends it with a 36 and 17 line in a Game 7 win in Chicago? Rose fails to deliver the goods, and the Magic catch fire and all of a sudden, the Bulls are going home as Orlando heads to a third straight Eastern Conference Finals. It’s entirely possible. Orlando has overachieved the last two years they’ve been in the playoffs. And the Bulls? They aren’t exactly experienced, and there are quite a few parallels you can make between this team and the Cleveland teams of the two previous years.

Still, even if this hypothetical were to come true, it won’t confirm or refute anything. Olajuwon did not deserve the 1995 MVP just because he was a monster in the conference finals. Robinson was the best player all year (27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks a game), and played for the best team (62-20). It was his year.

Howard channeling the Nigerian this spring could happen. The question though is why will it matter in this argument?

You know what though? I kind of want it to happen, not because of anything to do with Chicago or Derrick Rose. I feel bad for Dwight, for maybe no other reason than he can’t ever get any love. When he couldn’t score and had the post moves of the Tin Man, people said he couldn’t win. Then, the Magic went to the Finals. Now, because his team hasn’t reached expectations, he is automatically locked out of winning the MVP (I’m not even going to start in on this issue). He isn’t the reason Orlando has underachieved. Actually, he is perhaps the sole reason they are even in the playoffs, and bound to win at least one round. Yes, he’s probably been the best player in the NBA, so we will throw him in at two or three on the candidate list. But winning the whole thing? Nope.

Derrick Rose deserves the MVP, but Dwight Howard might deserve it more. Might. The debate over who will actually win it is pretty much over. Rose has it locked, according to Stan Van Gundy, and us, and everybody. It has been his year. But maybe the big man gets some retribution in the playoffs.

Just remember, if that does happen, don’t alter history.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

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  • the truth

    I been preaching this for over a month. Not to take anything away from D Rose (one of my favorite players), but Dwight isn’t geting nearly enough love

  • beiber newz

    kobe and dwight WOULD BE BETTER THAN KOBE AND SHAQ!!

    no jus kidding….but actually when i think about it…one can make the argument.
    shaq did get fat and lazy

  • SWAT

    GOOD ARTICLE SEAN. I still remember eveyone in Htown, at the summit, clowning the admiral. But like u said, a few dream shakes doesnt take away wht the dude did. Then i remember next series against orlando-everybody dancing around brooms in hand. 94-95 back to back chips…ahh good times. do yall remember tht one on one tht was supposed to happen with dream and shaq? can yall imagine how tht would hv went down?

  • beiber newz

    shaq did also work his way back into old man playing shape. frankly, it amazes me how popel still have to use the hack a shaq at his age. dude is a BULL

  • http://www.facebook.com/loganlight loganlight

    Great thoughts… It’s so hard to compare the importance of Dwight and D Rose when they are two different types of players. Dwight can control a game, but is limited in that he depends on his teammates getting him the ball… tough spot to be sure. Isn’t that why we play with PGs and SGs in NBA2K? Ha.

    Really though, if Dwight took the MVP, I would be surprised, but not shocked. He has had a monster year and we might be seeing him at his best. If he does choose to go out West in a couple of years, we will see his production change – nobody can put up 24 and 15 with Kobe, ask Pau. Interesting to think about.

    Rose has upped his game incredibly. He is the absolute leader on an incredible team. He better enjoy it now because LBJ is coming…


  • Fish

    Hakeem Olajuwon was the best player of all time, in my opinion. Not just talented, but a true winner by every definition.


    Olajuwon is only relevant because someone decided to play baseball. Had that someone played, Olajuwon would have joined the ZERO championships club!

  • zeitgeist

    @ BRUCE

    Harsh but fair…

    …all championships that were won while MJ was on baseball leave should come with an asterix…

  • First & Foremost

    @ Bruce & Zeitgeist – Whose decision was it to play baseball? That is like saying the Pistons didn’t deserve their championship because Shaq and Kobe decided not to get along.

    The facts clearly show Houston winning 2 championships. What if ChEwing dunked the ball, maybe the world would be different.

  • LakeShow84

    Props to Sean..

    Wrote an article that drew me in lol

  • SWAT

    @ 7 and 8? are yall kidding me? so you guys know exactly how tht wld hv played out do you? let me guess you also had VCU and Butler in the final four right? gtfoh.
    that argument kills me-i mean damn the spurs with their chip during the shortened season dont even get as much flak as the rockets do. ck the regular season stats against the bulls. It wld hv been a competive series-the dream and MJ at their peak and both squads playing out of their mind. tht wld hv been a great matchup


    It would have been a competitive series, great match-ups, and blah, blah, blah but in the end, The GOAT wins again!

    Stupid little monkey! How dare you doubt The GOAT?

  • Dapro

    Well written article and I can certainly understand why many think Dwight Howard deserves more attention but the reality is Howard is more David Robinson than he is Hakeem…

    Howard in my opinion needs an alpha male teammate who can carry them.. Howard will always get numbers but it won’t translate to rings

    I’m actually on the otherwise of the articles point, what if Howard does win the MVP, then I fully believe Rose has the talent, demeanor, and work ethic to beat out the Magic with a dominating performance should they face one another in the playoffs

  • QQ

    Dammmmmn Sean, you’re delivering gold like crazy, man.

    LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE the article.

  • Dapro

    Other side is what I meant


    How dare you doubt The GOAT?

  • SWAT

    lol u hv to be a kid? thinking bball started with MJ. In case you didnt know MJ did lose a few series here and there.

  • JAY

    MJ is 6-0 in NBA Finals. Indiana, NY, Miami and the other East “powers” couldn’t keep MJ from the Finals and I don’t think that would have changed.

    There’s no evidence to say MJ wouldn’t have or would have won Hakeem’s 2 rings. We’ll never know, but we can all have opinions.

    IMO, MJ would have won them. He left the game as the best player in the world… then came back and was still the best player in the world.

    @SWAT, Yes MJ lost a few playoff series here and there, but once dude got over the Pistons, only Orlando eliminated his teams and that was when he returned. The next season he leads his team to 72 wins. <– for a dude to retire, then comeback and lead his team to the best season in history in his first full season back is fuckin retarded. I'm no kid.

  • http://dimemag.com Sean Sweeney

    It would’ve been fun to see a potential Houston-Chicago Finals. But don’t automatically assume the Bulls would’ve just continued to win again and again. The break was important for MJ. They would’ve still been the favorites, but the Dream would’ve destroyed that Chicago front line.

  • JAY

    @ Sean: “The break was important for MJ. ”
    Agreed. He came back with more drive than ever before. That’s why they won 72 wins… all those youngins were saying he was too old, or he isn’t the same. The comments added more wood to his fire. That said, it’s MJ. 6-0 in Finals appearances. Just my opinion.

    It’s too bad we didn’t witness a Bulls/Rockets Final… I think it could have been the best Finals ever.

    I remember in 94, Barkley said Hakeem is the best basketball player in the NBA… the best basketball player in the world is playing baseball.

  • top_gun

    Jordan could of easily had 8 rings, if not more. He had no competition during that time and that’s why he lost the love for the game. Don’t get me wrong, Hakeem is a phenomenal player and probably would be in the top 5 of all time if he had started to play ball at an earlier age. However, no one was capable of beating the Bulls in a 7 game series when Jordan was at his peak. That’s just crazy talk.

  • SWAT

    dammit thank u sean! i have argued this point for over a decade. im not arguin’ MJ or his accolades-im saying for these young cats (the same dudes copping “flu game” kicks but think the name is from the shoes themselves being sick) pls ck the regular season stats-htown held their own against jordan either sweeping the reg season or going 1-1, except the 72-10 season.
    and like u said Jay-orlando beat mj’s bulls. yea he was just coming back and all tht jazz but they still won. and htown swept orlando-it wld hv been a great series

  • First & Foremost

    They should come out with another Space Jam

  • hahns

    yo for real- im gona say it

    eff MJ

    its getting so TIRED of everyone being all over mjs crotch. i dont care if hes the “goat”, you cant tell me that hakeem wasnt a freak and could have beaten mj in the finals. you just cant do it. yeah mj might have been the best ever, but he was the best ever because he won – he doesn’t win bc hes the best ever.

  • JAY

    @hahn: “yeah mj might have been the best ever, but he was the best ever because he won – he doesn’t win bc hes the best ever.”

    Nice quote but you gave me ammo for my argument… I’ll use your own words…
    “he was the best ever because he won”
    “he was the best ever because he won”
    “he was the best ever because he won”

    Thanks. That why I think the Bulls team would have won 8 straight. MJ was the best ever… and just wins.

  • hahns


    i think you know this and that youre only trying to make a punchline- but in case you don’t, my point was that it pisses me off that people think teleologically about jordan. because he has won after the fact does not mean that he would have won in all instances prior

  • Fish

    You all need to remember that although Jordan was phenomenal in his earlier career, he didn’t win jackshit. Sure, they put it together for three straight but you always have more intangibles than one man, no matter how good that one man happens to be. Olajuwon was simply unstoppable in both his final runs, and he would have freakin destroyed Luc Longley and Will Perdue!

    Mario Ellie and Vernon Maxwell could have contained Jordan, for all we know.

  • Fish

    But getting back on the subject of the article, I agree with Dapro in that Howard is much more a Robinson, than Hakeem. So he will always need a comparable sidekick and will never be a solo force. When is Tim Duncan being reborn?

  • JAY

    @Fish: “Sure, they put it together for three straight but you always have more intangibles than one man, no matter how good that one man happens to be. Olajuwon was simply unstoppable in both his final runs, and he would have freakin destroyed Luc Longley and Will Perdue!”
    I agree –> “no matter how good that one man happens to be.” Chicago had 2 guys. Houston had 1. and FYI, MJs Bulls won 3 straight TWICE… not just 3 straight. The streak was broken because he left the game.

    and how could you say Hakeem would have destroyed Perdue and Longley, yet in the same breathe say Elie and Maxwell could have stopped MJ. Really?
    Also, I’m puzzled why you give props to Hakeem being unstoppable in his 2 championship runs, but no props to MJ being unstoppable? Hakeem has 2 Finals MVP… doesn’t MJ have 6? He’s 6-0 in Finals appearances and has 6 Finals MVP. I think the people here who’s opinion leans towards MJ winning 8 straight if he didn’t retire have valid reasons for their thinking. I agree that anything could have happened, but my opinion is that MJ would have taken those 2.

    @hahns: “…because he has won after the fact does not mean that he would have won in all instances prior”
    FYI, when Hakeem won his 2 rings, MJ won 3 prior and 3 after… not just after the fact. and because he won 3, then left, then won 3 again, and never showed any signs of slowing down when he left and looked just as strong when he came back, I think we have a valid opinion that MJ would have taken Hakeem’s rings too.

    BTW, teleogically <– good word. Lol

  • Fish

    Hey JAY,

    I was only half serious when I suggested Jordan could be stopped by those guys, but my main point there is while Jordan may have had some competition at his position (Mario generally did a pretty good job on Jordan straight up in that era), Hakeem had none. We all like to remember Longley as a solid part of their second three peat campaign, but in the early days he was just another stiff.

    The team makeup was similar on both sides. I always considered Pippen to be overrated (yep, I’m all about the controversy) and I would definitely have considered Horry to be a neutralizer of that second threat, even as a rookie.

  • marcus the great

    “vernon maxwell and mario elie could have contained jordan”

    laugh out loud that looks hilarious just at the sight of it

  • JAY

    “I always considered Pippen to be overrated (yep, I’m all about the controversy) and I would definitely have considered Horry to be a neutralizer of that second threat, even as a rookie.”

    Whoa… slow down there. Even if you think he was overrated, Horry isn’t “neutralizing” Pippen. If Anthony Mason averaged 12 & 7 against Horry, Pippen is a safe bet for at least his regular season average. That’s pretty funny. Those were the days of illegal defences and pure isolations. Elie is NOT holding Jordan when he’s put on an island against him. Lol! He lit Starks up for 55 points his 4th game back from retirement @ frikkin MSG and Starks was a much better defender than Elie was. Elie isn’t doing shit. Especially not in the NBA Finals. That’s just as ridiculous as me saying Wennington can hold Hakeem.
    The Bulls team got better with the addition of Kukoc after the first 3-peat. Had MJ stayed, IMO, MJ would have led his improved roster to another 2 rings.

  • Fish

    I quote from the 96-97 season:

    “Elie also enhanced his reputation as a defensive stopper when he held Michael Jordan scoreless (0-for-9 from the field) in the second half of the Rockets’ 102-86 win over the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 19″

    I can remember how those guys faced up and Mario always did an admirable job. My comparison between Jordan having *some* competition and Hakeem having none still stands.

  • Fish

    As another addendum on the seeming infallibility of the Bulls, in the 90’s the West was a much stronger conference. Kind of a flaw of playoff basketball I guess, but they only had to face one of those teams. If they did play in the West the picture could have been different overall.

    But, I’ll stop playing the devils advocate, I will give you the 93-94 match-up (Carl Herrera!), but the 94-95 title: clutch city. Jesus, but I’m old.

  • http://getyourishbusted.net Chicagorilla

    Why is anyone debating with this fool fish?

    He just said the west was stronger??? wtf? you’re not even an idiot…you are like the shit stain in an idiots drawers after a bad case of diarrhea.

  • Fish

    Of course the West was a much stronger conference for the majority of the 90’s. Do the research.