Apart from being one of the most dominant centers in NBA history, Hakeem Olajuwon was a humble and devoted person that epitomized what it means to be a true professional. If you watched him play, you couldn’t help but notice how much elegance and composure he played with throughout his entire NBA career. Talking trash never worked against Hakeem, and he rarely reacted to it since he was so confident in his skillset.
However, one time, Hakeem completely lost it, and it was none other than Kevin Johnson that was able to get the best out of Hakeem but soon found out he made a terrible mistake. It was initiated after Kevin Johnson delivered a nasty poster dunk on Hakeem in Game 4 of the WCSF between the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets. It was truly an unbelievable play; however, the Rockets were able to win the game and tie the series.
Sam Cassell, who was a rookie point guard for the Rockets, remembers how Kevin Johnson wanted to provoke Hakeem before game 5. In a podcast with Baron Davis, Cassell shared how Johnson had a random kid take a photo of his poster dunk and have Hakeem sign it, but that didn’t sit well with Hakeem. The latter immediately confronted Johnson and made it clear he was not going to be humiliated.
Kevin Johnson dunked on him, bam, dunked on him. After the game, he sent a ball boy over there, and he had a poster of Kevin Johnson dunking on him. He sent a ball boy to have Hakeem Olajuwon sign it, and at that moment, I knew Hakeem Olajuwon was no joke. He was a Muslim at that time, and his demeanor was really calm. This is when I knew Hakeem was like Wu-Tang Clan. He ain’t nothing to mess with. We got to the court, and Hakeem came to him and said, don’t you ever disrespect me like that. It happened before the jump ball, and KJ was shocked, literally shocked.Sam Cassell, via Point God
Cassell had the opportunity to get to know Hakeem up and close, and he never saw him so angry as that time. He even believes Johnson was lucky Hakeem didn’t initiate a fight with him because that wouldn’t end up well for the Suns’ point guard.
Hakeem was a Muslim at that time, and his demeanor was calm. If it happened a year before, that would be a punch in the face. But his demeanor was calm, and KJ got the point; he got the message real quick.Sam Cassell, via Point God
Hakeem decided to get his revenge differently and let his game do all the talking. He pretty much took over after that game and led the Rockets past the Suns, dominatinga both ends of the floor, capping off the series in game 7 with 37 points and 17 rebounds. He would continue to dominate his opponents throughout the rest of the playoffs and went on to win his first championship for the Rockets after beating the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals.
When you look back at that playoff run by the Rockets, you can’t help but think how that moment with Kevin Johnson motivated Hakeem to ascend to another level and bring Rockets to the promised land. Johnson made the terrible mistake of provoking Hakeem, who was always calm and respectful even to his opponents. Hakeem unleashed a force nobody could stop during those playoffs and showcased you don’t mess around with The Dream.