Hakeem Olajuwon’s unique skillset helped him become one of the greatest players in NBA history. Standing at seven feet tall, Olajuwon had a unique blend of speed and strength that allowed him to do things that no one else could. And of course, Hakeem “The Dream” popularized his go-to move, “The Dream Shake,” which was nearly impossible to defend.
Olajuwon’s all-around skillset has cemented him as one of the NBA’s best players ever. He could block the ball, steal the ball, rebound the ball, and most importantly, score the ball. But according to another all-time great, Reggie Miller, there was one trait Olajuwon possessed that helped him take his game to the next level, and that was his incredible footwork at the center position.
“What I can say about Hakeem Olajuwon is that he has arguably the best footwork of any center this game has ever seen. The inside, the outside jabs. Beautiful balance, he could face you up and drill shots. Beautiful back to the basket game, always hitting you with that Dream Shake.”
Hakeem Olajuwon’s footwork helped him establish himself on both ends of the court
When you mention Olajuwon’s footwork, everybody instantly thinks about “The Dream Shake.” And how could you not? Olajuwon would effortlessly create space in the low post with a dizzying array of moves that helped him get wide-open looks. One of the most famous examples of Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake” and, in turn, his stellar footwork came against David Robertson in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 1985.
Olajuwon’s footwork also helped him out on the other end of the floor. Olajuwon was a defensive beast throughout his career, and he is the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks while coming in at ninth all-time on the steals list. Hakeem used his quick feet to stay in front of his man before his height, and vertical jump would allow him to swat shots into the stands. He could also read passes before they happened, which helped improve his steal totals.
For Olajuwon to do these things at the center position, while being seven feet tall nonetheless, helps emphasize just how talented he was. It's no accident guys like Kobe and LeBron made sure to get educated by Hakeem in his camp in Houston. We have never seen another player like him, and chances are we never will.
Hakeem’s skill set is practically extinct from the modern NBA
Considering how successful Olajuwon was in the post throughout his career, it’s somewhat surprising that his skill set is practically extinct in the NBA just 20 years after he retired. Yet that also shows just how talented and unique Olajuwon was during his career.
Nowadays, with an emphasis on three-point shooting, big men don’t necessarily rely on back-to-the-basket scoring as much as they once did. Players like Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic can back down their defenders using their strength, but they all have other aspects of their game they rely much more on for their scoring. It’s also worth noting they don’t have the same footwork that Olajuwon had to shake off his defender.
The game has changed and gone away from what made Olajuwon a star in some senses. But in another sense, many players don’t possess the same set of skills that Olajuwon had, which is why he was so successful in the NBA. Miller’s analysis of Olajuwon’s skills provides yet another avenue to appreciate Olajuwon’s game while reflecting on how he is one of the last great post scorers the NBA has seen.