A tough opponent is the equivalent of a chess match. While Giannis Antetokounmpo was made a meme for revealing his “sleepless nights” because of the Indiana Pacers, the story isn’t new. Throughout NBA history, players have given their opponents sleepless nights. In a candid conversation, 4x NBA Champion and former teammate of Michael Jordan, Horcae Grant, would bare it all. Whether it was the true locker room leader during The Last Dance or his views on the GOAT debate, Grant didn’t shy away from the debates. However, when asked about his toughest opponent, there was just one name on his mind.
Look away, Gilbert Arenas, because Hakeem Olajuwon brought genuine fear into a pivotal piece of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. Horace wasn’t shy in detailing what a nightmare cover the Houston Rockets big man was. But, to him, the problem with the Nigerian was his two-face brilliance.
“He was about seven feet, but he had the footwork of a dancer. He had the physicality of a bodybuilder and he had the intellect and IQ out there on the floor like Albert Einstein. I mean, all of that combined would keep you up at night and he certainly did,” Grant said.
The former number 1 overall pick would go on to establish an exquisite resume. A 2x NBA Champion, MVP, and DPOY in the same year (one of 3 men, alongside Mike and Giannis to do it), and a mentor for future superstars, Hakeem’s game was finesse with an explosion.
But he was also part of one of the greatest missed matchups in the NBA Finals.
The curious case of a Michael Jordan – Hakeem Olajuwon NBA Finals
Their matchup remains one of the biggest games that never came to pass. But, it isn’t the only one. While fans got to witness Magic Johnson and Larry Bird battle on the NBA Finals stage, most dream matchups ended up as fantasy only.
Whether it was Michael against his greatest disciple in Kobe Bryant or the Mamba facing LeBron James, who Grant believes is a legitimate part of the GOAT discussion, for all the marbles, neither came to pass. The same, unfortunately, is true for the Jordan – Hakeem Finals spectacle.
During the Bulls’ 6 trips to the Finals, the Rockets didn’t reach the mantle even once. Conversely, Michael was going through his first retirement and an embarrassment courtesy of Shaquille O’Neal during Olajuwon’s historic 1994&1995 run. Added to that, their selections as the top 3 picks, with His Airness chosen later, and the storyline wrote itself.
With a member of Chicago openly proclaiming Hakeem as his toughest opponent, who would have won that series? Let us know in the comments below.