Hakeem vs. Shaq

When great NBA players of the past from the 1960s are normally compared, I feel my opinion is of little value. The fact is I didn’t watch those guys consistently and even though I’ve seen NBA classic games here and there, I don’t feel nearly as well-versed to make a legitimate comparison. For example if someone asked me who I truly felt was better between Chamberlain and Kareem, I just don’t have an answer.

The same cannot be said for Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal. I actually was able to watch their entire careers. Which is why if I was asked to pick the better player of the two, I’m going with the Dream.

 Maybe it’s my green-tinted glasses coming into play again and how O’Neal won his first 3 titles for the detested Fakers. Maybe I’m still peeved how he bolted Orlando in the first place for Los Angeles when the contracts were the same and the Magic without question had the better team at the time. Or perhaps it’s because O’Neal’s now on his 3rd team in the past 2 seasons (which I really think begins to tarnish a player’s legacy).

Call me a traditionalist but the more teams someone plays for, I feel it impacts their greatness (with the exception of Chauncey Billups who went through that in the beginning of his career to establish himself). Olajuwon played for Houston his entire career until his final season when he played with the Raptors. I never quite understood that but Toronto had some promise that year. O’Neal’s now bolted Orlando, argued his way out of LA, gave no effort towards the end with Miami, who then shipped him to Phoenix where he made his “championship prediction” and proceeded to make the playoffs 1 out of the 2 seasons. Now he goes to Cleveland where my hope is he clogs that paint a bit too much which negates James’ ability to penetrate (I’m telling you, and you heard it here first: Illgauskas is a better fit for that Cavs team).

In 1994 and 1995 Olajuwon was the best player in the league after MJ retired the first time. Yes David Robinson may have won the 1995 MVP award but when the 2 met in the Western Conference Finals that year it was without question who the true MVP was.

In fact Olajuwon made the NBA Finals 3 times in his career. However only in 1995 was he teamed with another Hall of Famer when Clyde Drexler joined the Rockets halfway through the season. In fact, other than the 2004 Pistons, the 1994 Rockets were the only team in the past 30 seasons to win a title with only one Hall of Famer (assuming everyone who should make the Hall of Fame will). That 1994 Rockets team started Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, and Otis Thorpe. Their main bench players were rookie Sam Cassell, Scott Brooks, Mario Elie, and Carl Herrera. Is that team higher than a 7th seed without Olajuwon? And they proceeded to win the championship.

8 years earlier when facing the veteran Celtics in the Finals, the Rockets put up more of a fight than most expected. They had an excellent opportunity to win Game 4 at home as well and that would’ve been a 7 game series against arguably the best team in NBA History. As I rewatched that series recently, it impressed me how incredible Olajuwon was even at the age of 23. There he is, in only his second season, going toe to toe with McHale and Parish, savvy veterans soon to be Hall of Famers. Blocking their shots, hitting fadeaways, etc. One of the games in that series Dream had 9 blocks.

As for Shaq, he’s won 4 titles, so twice as many as Olajuwon, but also had the luxury of always being teamed with another Hall of Famer, and being able to play the majority of his prime after Jordan retired. MJ prevented a lot of people from ever winning. How many would Olajuwon have won if MJ never played? How many would Shaq have won if he played in the same era as Jordan? It’s interesting to think.

Shaq also made the finals in 1995 (swept by Olajuwon’s Rockets) as well as 2004 (upset by the Pistons).

Looking back, Olajuwon can be faulted for not winning the title the year they had Barkley and Drexler. But so can O’Neal for the year they lost having Bryant, Payton, and Malone.

So career stats here’s how they match up:


18 Seasons
21.8 ppg (26,946 career, 10th all time)
11.1 rpg (13,748 career, 12th all time)
3.1 bpg (3,830 career, 1st all time)
1.7 spg (9th all time)
2 NBA Titles
3 NBA Final Appearances
12 All NBA Appearances


17 Seasons Complete
24.7 ppg (27,619 career, 7th all time)
11.2 rpg (12,566 career, 16th all time)
2.4 bpg (2,628 career, 8th all time)
0.6 spg
4 NBA Titles
6 NBA Final Appearances
14 All NBA Appearances

Assists per game were a wash at 2.6 and 2.5.

I’m going with Olajuwon. He played during Michael Jordan’s prime. There were other dominant centers in the league at the time (David Robinson, Patrick Ewing). His defense was far superior (9th all time in steals for a center is amazing and his block record won’t be challenged for a long time) and his offensive moves may have been the best ever for a guy that size.

What’s your take?