Is Hakeem Olajuwon Properly Rated as the No. 12 Player in NBA History?


Hakeem Olajuwon is among the most accomplished centers in NBA history, standing as the Rockets' all-time leader in minutes, points and rebounds. And Olajuwon's resume extends far beyond his place in Rockets' history.

The Houston product tallied 12 All-NBA appearances in 18 seasons, and he was an All-Star in 12 of his first 13 years in the league. Olajuwon retired in 2002 with two Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Finals MVPs and the 1993-94 MVP, standing as perhaps the best player of the 1990s behind Michael Jordan. James Harden has a long ways to go to even sniff Olajuwon's legacy. 

Olajuwon's greatness led to his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, and on Wednesday, he was ranked as the No. 12 player of all-time in a list compiled by ESPN. Does 'The Dream' deserve to be placed higher on the all-time list? Let's make the brief case for Olajuwon over those who ranked ahead of him by ESPN. 

Olajuwon vs. Oscar Robertson

We should make the caveat now that any argument against Robertson (or any of Olajuwon's subsequent competitors) isn't any shot at the original triple-double king. Robertson was among the league's best players by his second season, and he is the only player in NBA history who ranks in the top 10 in points per game and assists per game. Yet Robertson's teams never contended for titles with him as the top player. 

The Cincinnati Royals missed the playoffs in each of Robertson's last three seasons with the team, and they were more than 10 games over .500 just once with The Big O. Robertson did capture an elusive championship in 1970-71, though the Bucks' true anchor was league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

Both players have one regular-season MVP, and Olajuwon and Robertson sit No. 12 and No. 13 on the all-time scoring list, respectively. But a close battle, Olajuwon's playoff peaks give him the upper hand. 

Olajuwon vs. Shaquille O'Neal

It's hard for Olajuwon to keep up with his fellow center if we're discussing their playoff peaks. O'Neal won three straight Finals MVPs from 2000-02, and his absolute destruction of the Pacers in 2000 is unmatched in the 21st century. So what's the case for Olajuwon? 15 years of sustained success

It's hard to find a steadier big man in NBA history than Olajuwon. He tallied at least nine win shares in 12 of 13 seasons from 1984-97, leading the NBA in defensive win shares four straight years to close to 1980s. O'Neal's defensive metrics never matched Olajuwon, and his production fell off a relative cliff after 2005-06. O'Neal forced his way out of Orlando and Los Angeles. He was torched by Olajuwon in the 1995 NBA Finals. O'Neal sheer dominance at his peak may give him the upper hand to some, though Olajuwon's sheer consistency makes for an interesting case. 

Olajuwon vs. Kobe Bryant

Bryant's five championships and 33,643 points is quite the sterling resume, though circumstance consistently favored the former Lakers' star. Bryant wasn't the best player in each of his first three titles with Los Angeles, and he was able to rack up points in the mid-2000s as his team's lone viable scorer. Perhaps his statistical resume is better than his true on-court impact each year.

Both Bryant and Olajuwon have one regular-season MVP and two Finals MVPs. Bryant is a two-time scoring champion, while Houston's big man is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Bryant and Olajuwon are two wildly different players with markedly different demeanors. But while Bryant's career was defined by a slate of ebbs and flows, perhaps Olajuwon's extended excellence gives him the nod.