From Here on Out Life Will Not Be the Same
Did you hear? FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be officially released on October 26, and the celebration is beginning early. In the tradition, of Pele Week over at the fantastic soccer blog, Run of Play, Brian Phillips (of Run of Play) has allowed us to adapt the concept to create DREAM WEEK. This series will undoubtedly last well over a week and will feature the finest talents in sportswriting including the authors of the Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball bringing their best Hakeem Olajuwon-related posts on the blog until the book drops.
Why Hakeem? In addition to all he has done for basketball, he serves as a major cornerstone within the Guide, appearing on 5% of the books pages. In fact, in my essay about Michael Jordan's dominance during the 1990s, I couldn't avoid making Hakeem and his championship Rockets the centerpiece of the entire story. Because I have already in a sense contributed to DREAM WEEK in this essay, I will instead provide a short piece here on Hakeem's role-playing compatriots, and one in particular...
As I have blurted many times previously, I spent a good portion of my youth working for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Scott Brooks was the first player I met on the job and the last player I ever thought would be mentioned in a Jadakiss song. In a league full of a--holes, Scott Brooks was the nicest guy around. About 19 years ago, I worked my first game, an exhibition contest against the Bucks in St. Cloud Minnesota, and Brooks gave me a five dollar tip even though I did pretty much everything wrong that night and was swimming in a warm-up suit three sizes too big for me. Brooks continued to be my best ally on the team through his brief tenure as Pooh Richardson's back-up on the Wolves, and when he was traded for a 2nd round pick to the Rockets in 1992, I figured that was the last I would see of him.
I was stunned then, while watching the 1994 playoffs that Brooks was playing alongside Hakeem, for the eventual championship Rockets. I also remember, in the few minutes he played, he actually didn't look so bad. He was scrappy as hell, and seemed to hold the team together with (I believe) Kenny Smith on the bench. Of course Brooks would go on to win the championship that year, and after his playing career ascend through the ranks of coaching, winning coach of the year award last year. Does this have anything to do with Hakeem? Probably not.
But looking back on the supporting casts that Olajuwon had during his championship years--Matt Bullard, Cassell, Horry, Mad Max, old-Drexler, Kenny Smith, Mario Elie, Otis Thorpe--one realizes how much Hakeem's greatness pervaded the entire team, elevating the level of play of each one of these not-quite-stars and journeymen. In the age of the dual-superstar championship, Hakeem defied all logic and created an economic structure of trickle-down greatness. As great as Rudy T was as a coach, these Rockets disciples descended from Olajuwon, not Tomjanovich. Listen to Kenny Smith talk on TNT, savor the clutch performances of Cassell and Horry over the years, and watch Scott Brooks coach...one can plainly understand the pedigree that Dream instilled in all who walked with him.