Now that LeBron seems to have gotten over his mental issues and is finally dominating the league like few players have in history, we can legitimately start putting him into the top 10 conversation. Even the most ardent LeBron hater will have to admit that he will consolidate his place by the time he hangs up his boots (given that he's already 28 and in the mix), so we unfortunately have to bump one player out of the list.
I've seen so many recent lists popping Hakeem off and putting LeBron in his place, and I strongly disagree with that. So, I'm going to show you exactly why Hakeem is locked in top 10, and arguably top 5.
Of course, to anyone that didn't watch him closely enough, looking at his basic resume of 2 rings, 2FMVP and 1MVP puts him at the bottom of the consensus 'all time 11 list'. Kobe has 3 more rings, LeBron has 3 more MVPs etc etc...
But look at his overall game - that's the real judgement. Who had the interior defensive impact he had? Russell, sure. Certainly not Shaq or Wilt. Kareem was a good defender, but not as good as Hakeem, period. Duncan was great, but could he switch onto smaller guards and defend them for a few seconds until the man defender got back to them... and then go back to guard the paint in time for a block?
And who managed to combine that with arguably the greatest footwork and post moves of all time, bamboozling defenders with the infamous 'dream shake'?
Hakeem is as close to the 'model' center as you can get. Not as offensively dominant as Shaq, Wilt or Kareem, but he had a greater two-way impact IMO. If you asked me to draft a center to build around, I pick Hakeem over all of them in all honesty.
Now, let's address his accomplishments and his many playoff 'failures'. The truth is, he was put in the circumstances that favoured him the least out of all
the top 11 players. There's really no question about it.
And I'm not even talking about Jordan's domination specifically.
In his second year (1986): led his team to the finals
, beating off the defending champions Magic & Kareem-led Lakers in the WCF, while averaging 31-11. But, he only had the small matter of facing arguably the greatest team ever (with the greatest frontline ever), and he still led his team to am impressive sixth game against the ridiculously stacked Celtics. In his second year in the league, he averaged 27-12 in the playoffs. Hakeem's fault they didn't win?
Third year (1987): 7'4 Ralph Sampson was injured for a lot of the regular season (signalling the end of the 'twin towers' next year... you have to wonder what could have been had he stayed healthy). The Rockets were taken out in 6 in the WCSF, but Hakeem drops one of the greatest performances ever in the elimination game - a 49-25 masterclass in the double OT loss. And I do seem to recall Sampson missing at least one crucial FT. Hakeem's fault?
Same story in 1988. Well, in truth, it was worse. The Rockets lost to the Mavs in the first round 3-1, but Hakeem averaged 38-17. He had 41-26 in game 2 (the only game they won) and 40-15 in the elimination game. Hakeem's fault?
The Rockets stayed in mediocrity for the next few years with a very weak supporting cast (Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Sleepy Floyd etc etc). In 1989 first round loss, he still put up 25-13 against the Sonics. In 1990, they were swept by prime Magic's Lakers with James Worthy + Byron Scott etc etc. Again, in 1991 first round vs finalist Lakers, he puts up 22-15. The team was awful in 1992 and they didn't make the playoffs (Hakeem still had 21-12 while missing 12 games).
Remember, this was really before Hakeem's peak (93-95), and this doesn't mention Hakeem's defense... which we know is all time great. Apart from 90 and 92, Hakeem was always amazing
and never let his team down. He certainly never threw away series' against underdogs.
Now we get to his peak years, widely accepted as being 1993-1995. In 93, he takes the Sonics to 7 games (a very good and balanced team with Ricky Pierce, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Sam Perkins etc) with Hakeem putting up 23-13-5. Rockets had bad calls going against them throughout the series, particularly game 7. They could have won that, and we might have seen a Rockets vs Bulls final.
Then we get the back-to-back titles. BOTH very underrated, if that's possible. That 1994 team relied on Hakeem like no other team did on their superstar, except perhaps the '03 Spurs and Duncan. Their offense was run ENTIRELY through him... they fed him into the post and he had to make the right play - and pretty much all the time - for them to stand a chance. They beat the prime Barkley-led Suns in 7 games in the WCSF with Hakeem averaging 29-14 (37-17 in the elimination game), beat the Jazz in 5 averaging 28-10. And then the Ewing-led Knicks in 7, limiting Ewing to 18 points on 36% shooting from the field (atrocious for a center of his calliber). Hakeem grabs FMVP.
That 1995 run was arguably the most impressive championship run in history. The Rockets did add Drexler as the second option, but they were only 6th seed. Hakeem was still dominant though and faced incredibly tough competition (at his position) throughout They beat the Jazz 3-2 in the 1st round with Hakeem averaging 35-9-4. Next, beat the Suns in 7 with him at 30-9-4 against Barkley. Next, with arguably the 'best' performance ever by a player in a single series, he put a masterclass against 'MVP' David Robinson (I swear D-Rob was about to fall into tears when Hakeem was pulling dream shakes left, right and center on his sorry ass). Poor D-Rob. And, finally, although the myth that he dominated Shaq in the finals is wrong... he did still outplay Shaq and fully deserved his second FMVP. To put it into context, he took his 45-37 6th seed team and beat 60-22, 59-23, 62-20 and 57-25 teams. Only team to ever beat ALL higher seeded teams I'd imagine.
Then Hakeem started to fall out of his prime. His 1997 team was LOADED with top heavy talent (Hakeem, Drexler, Barkley), but it had no depth and Hakeem was far removed from his prime (34 years old). Look at his numbers, he was still playing well, but the team wasn't constructed well enough to take down the Jazz.
Story of Hakeem's career: carry teams to punch above their weight... and still win a lot against those teams. Virtually ALWAYS perform at the highest level: win or lose. Step it up in crucial games.
And we're talking about a player that's not as good as Kobe? Not as good as Duncan? Not as good as LeBron currently? You kidding me?
I got Hakeem on the tier of Magic, Bird and Shaq, and I don't believe that's overrating him at all.