Put in their place
Where do HOF-bound Ewing, Olajuwon fit in history?
Posted: Friday April 4, 2008 1:33PM; Updated: Friday April 4, 2008 1:34PM
This year's Hall of Fame class will be announced Monday, and three NBA figures are considered a lock for enshrinement: Pat Riley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Some others among the 15 finalists are considered to be on the bubble, including Adrian Dantley, Dennis Johnson, Chris Mullin and Don Nelson.
Obviously, the "centers" of attention will be Olajuwon and Ewing. It is fitting that they should go in together, since their careers have been linked in so many ways. Ewing's Georgetown squad defeated Olajuwon's Houston team in the 1984 NCAA championship game. Ten years later, the Dream turned the tables when his Rockets beat Ewing's Knicks (coached by Riley) for the '94 NBA title.
With two such legendary centers entering the Hall at the same time, it is natural to want to compare them. Which was better? Where do they rank all time?
Let's start by agreeing that Olajuwon and Ewing were both great players, among the best of their era. Both were proud warriors who won a lot of games and defined their teams. Both left their mark on the game, with Olajuwon widely proclaimed as the "most graceful" pivot to ever play and Ewing "the greatest outside-shooting" center in history.
Statistically, they are pretty close as well. Olajuwon retired with career marks of 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.1 blocked shots. Ewing finished with 21.0 points, 9.8 boards, 1.9 assists and 2.4 blocks.
But Olajuwon will go down as the better overall player. The Dream possessed a more complete arsenal offensively and was a bigger factor on the defensive end. He won the MVP in '94 (and probably should have in '95) and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
More important, Olajuwon won those two NBA titles ('94 and '95), including the head-to-head matchup with Ewing's Knicks.
As for their place in history, they both rank among the top 10 centers of all time. Here's how I would rank the top 10, in terms of their impact on the game:
1. Wilt Chamberlain: The most dominant center ever. The 7-foot Chamberlain literally towered over the game. His statistics look like typos in the record book. His 100-point game is a part of American sports lore.
2. Bill Russell: The greatest winner ever. Russell's 11 championship rings (Chamberlain won two in his career) stand as a testament to his team-first approach. One of the all-time greats defensively.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The NBA's all-time leading scorer and the first really great finesse center of the modern era. Member of the vaunted Showtime Lakers. Perfected the sky hook. Won a record six MVPs, as well as six titles (including one with the Bucks).
4. George Mikan: The NBA's first icon, he helped put the league on the map in the '50s. Led the Minneapolis Lakers to four NBA championships in six seasons. Sure, it was a different game then, but the 6-10 Mikan's huge star power can't be overlooked.
5. Shaquille O'Neal: No player in NBA history has possessed his combination of size, power, skill and showmanship. His four titles with two teams (three-peat with the Lakers and one with the Heat) cement his legacy.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon: Could put his man in a blender inside or beat him outside with a jumper. The NBA's all-time career blocked shots leader, and a tactician in the post with moves like his trademark Dream Shake.
7. Moses Malone: The greatest offensive rebounder in NBA history. Malone won three MVPs and joined with Julius Erving to lead the memorable '83 Sixers ("Fo Fo Fo") to a championship. He was named Finals MVP in that series against the Lakers.
8. David Robinson: One of the classiest men to play the game. The Admiral could score inside and out, rebound, defend and block shots. He also was the consummate team player. Robinson won two titles and an MVP.
9. Bill Walton: Maybe the greatest passing center of all time. Walton streaked across the NBA sky in his early career, dominating like few others before injuries slowed him down. Led the Blazers to the '77 title (he also was part of the Celtics' '86 championship team) and took home MVP in '78.
10. Patrick Ewing: The 7-footer had great touch for a big man, but he could also pound it in down low. A rugged defender and competitor, he nonetheless came up empty in his quest to win an NBA ring.