Legendary Coach Reveals When Michael Jordan Expressed Self Doubts over Beating Hakeem Olajuwon in NBA Finals

Published 05/12/2021, 12:30 PM EDT
Chicago Bulls # 23 Michael Jordan sitting next to Bill Cartwright on the bench during the Chicago Bulls vs New York Knicks game on May 14 , 1993 at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Tom Berg/WireImage)


Michael Jordan, upon returning from his 1985 foot injury, was a different force. NBA pundits back in those days knew it was just about the time that the Bulls would start winning championships under him. 

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In 1989, the Bulls played their first conference semis in 14 years and that season set the ball rolling. It was as if anyone coming in front of Air Jordan would see a brutal crushing. But how about the Houston side that prospered in the leadership of Hakeem Olajuwon during the same era?

When Michael Jordan gave his honest review of Hakeem Olajuwon

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Back in the days, legendary Rudy Tomjanovich was coaching the Rockets. He first served as an assistant coach for eight long years before turning into a head coach. Under his coachmanship, the Rockets enjoyed two consecutive 65%+ win seasons and also lifted back-to-back NBA Championships. However, none of that was possible if not for the win-share leader in Hakeem Olajuwon. In those two seasons, The Dream averaged a career-best 27.6 points and also won the finals MVP awards. 

Remembering the relentlessness of Hakeem, coach Tomjanovich recently shared a tale from a dinner he attended at Charles Barkley’s home. Back in 1996-97, Charles, still new to the Rockets, invited Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and coach Tomjanovich to dinner at his Phoenix property. The head coach used the opportunity to ask MJ how he felt about Hakeem’s dominance. 

Just as the coach reminisced, “I heard it from the horse’s mouth — and that’s Michael. It was the first time I really got a chance to talk to Michael. Nobody can ever know who would have won, but he said they were concerned that they couldn’t stop Hakeem. It was great to hear it from him.” 

Even head-to-head, Hakeem led MJ 13-10 in their all-time 23 clashes.

Read also – “It Was Unbearable”: Doc Rivers Opens Up on Michael Jordan’s Greatness

Why was MJ’s verdict so important?

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The Bulls’ Michael Jordan drives to the basket as teammate Dennis Rodman and the Clippers’ Loy Vaught(left) look on during game at Sports Arena earlier this season. (Photo by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

When MJ and his Bulls completed their first three-peat in 1993, general consensus believed that the Chicago-based team would never lose under MJ. However, a turn of events in Jordan’s personal life forced him to quit basketball in 1993 and pick minor-league baseball. It was during this time that the Rockets saw a massive rise with the 7-footer in Hakeem Olajuwon. 

The 3x block champion Hakeem, until 1996, averaged 24.3 points, 12.2 rebs, 2.7 assists, 1.9 steals, and 3.5 blocks. He was nature’s force, and the Bulls lacked a big man good enough to stop someone like him in the NBA Finals. Even Dennis Rodman joined them later in 1995-96. So how fair was it to suggest that the Rockets won only because MJ was partially inactive during those two seasons? That’s exactly why coach Rudy asked Air Jordan about his assessment of Hakeem. 

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But what does your evaluation say? Help us know your take on the debate in the comments below.

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Sourabh Singh

1284 articles

Sourabh Singh is an NBA sports analyst for EssentiallySports, who has been working with the site since May 2020. Prior to this, he functioned as Managing Editor at WittyFeed, followed by a stint at Decathlon. The Sports Management graduate leads an active lifestyle, veering to the mountains for off-trail adventures.

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