Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon entered the league in 1984, leading one of the best draft classes ever. The center was picked first while MJ was nabbed 3rd overall. Their careers would get entangled many times, and there was always a lot of mutual respect. It actually led to a prediction that turned out to be very true.
MJ predicted the future of big men
In 1996, Jordan claimed the future of big men would change, and they would evolve into more than just big bodies getting in the way.
“Just a bunch of small, versatile guys playing different positions. That’s the way the game is going. The dominant center is starting to get eliminated. You haven’t had a dominant center win a championship in 8 years.”
Michael Jordan, The Sport Rush
You may think this was a slight to Hakeem, who won two titles in '94 and '95 - it was actually a compliment. Jordan elaborated that he does not think of Olajuwon as a true center because The Dream was a small forward in his eyes. Hakeem’s a legit 7-footer, but he played way ahead of his time - MJ saw the future of basketball in him. The league has never seen a center with dribbling skills, elite footwork, and soft-touch from the perimeter.
Olajuwon’s style paved the way for the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. Before, teams exploit the big men of opposing teams by using quick wing players. However, the era of slow big men is now slowly vanishing. Centers nowadays can shoot, run, dribble, post up and defend.
Hakeem vs. MJ
The Rockets center won two NBA titles in his career, but Bulls fans quickly point out that Hakeem got them during MJ’s sabbatical from the league. The Bulls versus Rockets never happened; however, experts believe it could be one of the greatest Finals ever if it happened. The list of players with a winning record against Jordan isn't long, and Hakeem's name is on it. The two faced off 23 times in the NBA, and Olajuwon won 13 of them. It's not just players like Robert Horry theorizing MJ was scared of Hakeem - the GOAT confirmed it himself.
“You know it’s a good thing these guys can’t get out of the West. We've got no answer for that big monster.”
Michael Jordan to Fran Blinebury, postgame 1992
One of the best Finals we never got to see. We can't be sure what would've happened, but there's no doubt it would've been spectacular.