Shaquille O'Neal retired in 2010-11 as one of the most decorated centers in NBA history, tallying four championships, three Finals MVPs and 14 All-NBA appearances in 19 seasons. But O'Neal did leave one ring on the table in 1995.
O'Neal and the Magic were swept by the Rockets in the 1995 NBA Finals, a series in which Hakeem Olajuwon and Co. won their second straight championship. Olajuwon shined in the series with 32.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, a continuation of his dominant playoffs after decimating David Robinson in the Western Conference finals. Houston's center snagged his second straight Finals MVP in 1995, though to O'Neal, it wasn't exactly a fair fight between the Hall-of-Fame centers.
“[Olajuwon] kind of edged me out in the Finals, but it wasn’t a really fair edge out because when I got the ball, they doubled me and we didn’t double him,” O'Neal told NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh. “I wanted to show people that I’m unstoppable. Nobody can guard me on one-on-one.”
O'Neal continued to boast his 1-on-1 prowess, comparing it to one of the best wings of the 1990s.
“My NBA game was nothing like my one-on-one game,” O'Neal said. “My one-on-one game was similar to Grant Hill. I could handle it, put it between the legs, do a lot of tricks and all that stuff. [Olajuwon] wouldn’t have been expecting that. He wouldn't have been ready for that. I wanted to be able to showcase a different game.”
O'Neal nearly got the chance to face Olajuwon 1-on-1 in an event in Atlantic City in September 1995. But the highly-anticipated event was canceled due to back trouble for Olajuwon, leaving O'Neal without a chance to face The Dream mano-a-mano.
Houston has not reached the Finals since 1995, and Olajuwon retired in 2002 as the franchise's leader in minutes, points and rebounds. O'Neal's production didn't exactly falter after losing to Houston in 1995. He would log 10 more top-10 finishes in the MVP vote, and he was named an All-Star 11 times in 12 seasons after 1994-95.