Winning regular-season MVP, Defensive Player of The Year, and Finals MVP is the obvious connection between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Hakeem Olajuwon. But Bill Simmons points to the context of their title runs as another thing, although intangible, the two dominant NBA forces also have in common.
I was watching Giannis this year, and I’m thinking, ‘What he just did really reminded me of the Hakeem ’94, ’95 runs in some way where it’s like, the title was available, it was ready to be stolen by somebody, he stayed healthy, he got better as it went along, he dipped into some different level that we weren’t positive he had in him, made guys around him better and he just took the title.’Bill Simmons, The Bill Simmons Podcast
Houston’s title run from 1994 is especially similar to what Giannis and the Bucks have done this year. With no clear-cut favorite to win it all — Michael Jordan was retired at the time — the Rockets went through the Trail Blazers, Suns, Jazz, and Knicks for the organization’s first-ever Larry O’Brien, relying heavily on their superstar player who led them all the way.
The Bucks did the same thing with Antetokounmpo, and it paid off. The Greek Freak displayed a level of basketball we weren’t sure he had in him, allowing the Finals stage to bring out the best of him. This was also the case with Olajuwon — he finished the 1994 NBA Finals averaging 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 3.9 blocks.
But as Kenny “The Jet” Smith points out, none of it would’ve been possible without both teams’ supporting casts. That’s something he knows firsthand.
We had some really interesting pieces, some guys who people didn’t think could get it done at other places. We played with a chip on our shoulder, the Mario Ellies, the Vernon Maxwells of the world including myself, but one thing I would say is they (the Bucks) were the best basketball team this year.Kenny Smith, The Bill Simmons Podcast
It takes a collective effort to win the NBA championship. However, Smith knows superstar players are the ones who make a difference. And how Giannis did it in this year’s Finals is where Kenny drew a parallel between him and the all-time great big man he shared the locker room with while in Houston.
When you talk about Hakeem, you always say he’s relentless. He will go help on defense, run back and block a shot, he would go get the offensive rebound, he scored in so many different ways where, some of the great players today, they are great, but they only can do a couple of things. If Hakeem was having an off offensive night, he would have 10 offensive rebounds.Kenny Smith, The Bill Simmons Podcast
That’s a common denominator for all of the all-time greats — if their shots aren’t falling, they’ll find a different way to beat you. But both Hakeem and Giannis would do all of those little things even while having career nights shooting the ball.
That type of approach to the game is rare, especially in today’s day and age. Giannis obviously looked up to the right people. One of them was, without a doubt, the 7-footer wearing No. 34.