If there is one team the Bulls considered a problem, it was the Hakeem Olajuwon Rockets. Jordan said it to Rudy Tomjanovich after retiring in ‘98. The Bulls didn’t have anyone to match up with Hakeem, and the number support it – the Rockets went 5-1 versus Jordan’s Bulls in six meetings between 1991 and 1993.
All that gave the Rockets confidence only a few had walking out on the court against MJ and the Bulls. But, Hakeem was always a thoughtful guy, and he didn’t let his confidence change into arrogance. Olajuwon knew they would be going against the best and described what made Jordan special in his book, “Living the dream.”
“Most superstars, if they match up against each other at the same position, neutralize each other. When you put together your game plan you figure that unless someone has an outstanding night, this is a stand-off, the game will be won by the other teammates. But Michael Jordan isn’t neutralized. He’s different. Michael Jordan dominates superstars.”Hakeem Olajuwon, “Living the dream”
One of the ways he did it was with his athletic gifts. Hakeem wrote about the fact MJ had a small forward’s body and played like a guard. Olajuwon pointed out “his game is all footwork.” That’s the best compliment Hakeem Olajuwon can give you.
MJ’s size created matchup problems challenging to resolve. As always, the hands got a shout out. “When he shakes your hand, you don’t think he’s a guard.” Then, there was the hang time. Many times Olajuwon would think he is about to get a block, and MJ would stay up in the air a bit longer and find a way to score. There was nothing more Hakeem could’ve done. But what made MJ stand out from other great players was between his ears.
“But on top of being physically gifted, Michael Jordan is smart. He won’t settle for an open jumper. Most players will, they like taking open shots. But Michael Jordan is a very intelligent player and he wants better than I’m giving him, so he dribbles toward me. It’s unusual for a guard to dribble toward a big man if he wants to shoot a jumper. But this is Michael Jordan. If I’m going to let him shoot I back off some more, and some more, until he’s even closer to the basket and has an even easier shot. I can’t keep giving ground, and with every step backward I’m more off balance. Sooner or later I’ll have to come to him, at which point he can either shoot before I get there or drive around me. It’s a very subtle, very impressive set of decisions he makes.”Hakeem Olajuwon, “Living the dream”
Every ying has a yang, and with MJ, it was the way he treated teammates. If there were critics of his game, they would describe him as selfish and ruthless. There are many stories of players leaving the league after playing with MJ on the Bulls; he would break their spirit. Hakeem didn’t agree with that point of view.
“When he came into the league, Michael Jordan was criticized for being selfish. People used to complain all the time that he was shooting too much, twenty-eight times a game, and not getting his teammates involved. I never bought into that premise. Michael Jordan is a team player, he plays to win. When he takes his shot it’s because he thinks he can score. And he can!”Hakeem Olajuwon, “Living the dream”
One indicator of MJ’s status is the amount of praise like this he gets from his fiercest competitors. When other Hall of Famers talk about you like this, that’s the best GOAT argument in your favor.