The NBA was packed with great centers back in the ’90s and the mindset of most teams back then was such that you need a dominant center if you want to win a championship. Hakeem Olajuwon was one of those centers that dominated the league ever since he entered the NBA and ultimately won 2 championships with the Houston Rockets.
On his quest to win those two NBA championships he had to outplay other dominant centers in the league like Shaq, Ewing, Robinson, Mutombo. In an interview for The Players Tribune, Hakeem gave a short breakdown of each of those players and what made them special but also the challenges he faced when playing against them.
“Shaq was a beast. If you let him get a position, it was over. I’d be yelling at the ref “Three seconds, three seconds! He won’t move!” There won’t ever be someone with Shaq’s combination of size and skill.
Dikembe was the ideal center, a prototype of the traditional big man. Deke held down the middle, and I used to watch tape of how he got blocks on the helpside. He made me better.
Patrick Ewing was one of the toughest players in the paint. He could work you in and out for the full 48. I have tremendous respect for Patrick.
David Robinson was one of the quickest big men I have ever seen. I think of the word agile. I think of the word leaper. For a big man, David could get up. He was so quick and flexible and hard-working.”
Yao Ming is the other great center Hakeem appreciated quite a bit despite not playing against him in a professional game. He worked a lot with Yao when he was drafted by the Rockets helping him improve his post-game, however, he noticed Yao already had great footwork in combination with post-moves which he learned by studying none other than Hakeem himself.
“Yao Ming is another unique post player. I didn’t even play against him, but he worked out with me in Houston. When he showed up for his first workout, the first thing he did was show me all of my moves, one by one. He had been studying them. Yao had a very soft touch and some of the best footwork of a big man that I’ve seen.”