NBA, We Reminisce / Aug 17, 2011 / 1:00 pm

We Reminisce: Hakeem Olajuwon’s Lost Finals

Hakeem Olajuwon

An essential element in the cult of Michael Jordan is the fact that the man never lost an NBA Finals. It’s how we choose to remember him: Perfect. 6-0 in the endgame. Unassailable. In doing so, we place him in the tiniest of circles, that being multiple champions who never lost a title.

On paper, this is perhaps a poor estimator of greatness. Kobe Bryant, for instance, has been to seven different Finals. Kobe receives criticism for his two failed campaigns in 2004 and 2008, as if these deep playoff runs are somehow worth less than the years Jordan was snuffed out in the early rounds by the Celtics and Pistons.

Fair or not, Jordan’s peers in the Undefeated Finals Club remain few. Bird, Magic and the Bad Boys took turns bloodying each other’s reputations throughout the 80s and 90s. The new-wave Pistons fell short of a repeat in 2005. The Second Coming Celtics were beaten back by the Lakers in 2010. Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki have each given the other a Finals scar.

Then there is Tim Duncan, who at present is 4-0 in Finals series, and was only ever truly challenged in one of those runs. Duncan’s legacy is an enigma; praised by all as underrated, yet, somehow, still underrated.

The casual basketball fan is likely to nominate Hakeem Olajuwon for the Jordan/Duncan group. After all, it was Olajuwon’s Houston squad who ruled the NBA during the Jordan Intermission. In 1994, the Rockets dispatched Ewing‘s Knicks, and in the 1995 encore swept a young Shaq and his Magic. Nonetheless, Jordan’s club is a group to which Olajuwon cannot claim membership.

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  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips

    Great piece, Matt!

  • Slim

    Great Article Jordan even said this about Olajuwon and the Rockets “It’s a good thing those guys can’t find their way to the Finals, because we don’t have an answer for the big guy.” Who knows what would of happened if Jordan never retired in 1993.

  • marcus the great

    yea good article, i didnt know olajuwon made it to the finals before the 2 in the ’90s

  • Sean Sweeney

    People don’t understand how good that Houston team could’ve become…too bad they fell off the map just as quickly as they came up. Great work, Matt.

  • marcus the great

    i just watched the video, hakeem was on straight video game mode!

    mchale wasnt bad either

  • Bresaniel

    Excellent piece Matt. Simple, smooth and on point. Didn’t know Hakeem was part of this Houston squad. McHale is a beast on offense.

  • SWAT

    wow great article matt! even tho this was a tad before my time i always bring this up and dudes seem to hv deleted this year in the NBA from their mind. most people dont even believe we made it to the finals, let alone beat the showtime lakers to get there. to sum it up tho my rockets will always be on some ol school rodney dangerfield tip and never get respect.
    i remember whn we beat the knicks in 94 sports illustrated had a fit and was reluctant to print the article-at least thats how the rumor went in the H. lol. even with the chips people always give us the jordan wld hv beat yall or yall beat a YOUNG shaq-just no love for the rockets or for tht matter the texas teams in general.

    oh well-rip to dennis johnson. i met the dude when he coched the austin toros. class act.

  • Fish

    Thanks for that Matt.

    Watched this:


    yesterday which Olajuwon training with Howard in 2010. Ridiculous how quick and capable he still looks at his age.

    Hakeem was the reason I started watching basketball, and his failure defined him as much as his success.

  • Bo

    Hakeem never lost in a Finals….

    That was a Akeem Olajuwon!

  • srb

    What’s really amazing to me after I watched that video, is thinking about how dominant any of Hakeem, McHale or Parish would be in the L right now. Those moves all three of them are pulling would have no answer, anywhere.

  • Binaural

    That clip is really just a clinic of big-man moves, so enjoyable to watch. Hakeem vs McHale & Parish – the first two in particular are bywords for quality post game. Both teams seemed to play the inside-out halfcourt game really well, lots of high quality inlet passing.

  • HeadkickerB

    As I recall, the reason the Rockets fell off after this series was that two of their starters were banned from the league for drugs the next season. (Maybe it Lewis Lloyd and Mitchel Wiggins?)

  • 5850

    Author, please stop taking funny angles. Jordan never lost with a champ-caliber, ready-to-win team, never disappointed his fans, unlike others…

  • http://www.geturweightup.com Chicagorilla

    Ralph Sampson was a 7’4 KG like PF and Hakeem was just rounding into his own.
    Those two murked any front line put in front of them.
    Add in Rodney McCray who was decent back then and they had a sick frontcourt all around.

    Problem was their weak ass guard play and coaching.

  • http://www.geturweightup.com Chicagorilla

    That first Up and Under by McHale had even ME flucked up!!!

    Sick sick sick