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ESPN’s top NBA players list badly misses the mark with Hakeem Olajuwon

To celebrate 74 years of the NBA, ESPN recently ranked the top 74 players in league history, and like any list of the best players of all-time, there were controversial choices.

Some of them were debatable — Kobe Bryant in the top 10 is probably a stretch, but it’s still hard to complain. Some of them were just plain bad — Dirk Nowitzki and Stephen Curry over Kevin Garnett?

But the most egregious error of all was leaving Hakeem Olajuwon out of the top 10.

Somehow, some way, ESPN ranked Olajuwon 12th, behind Oscar Robertson.

The top 10? Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

The order of those players has enough problems in and of itself, but excluding Olajuwon altogether is just asinine.

At his peak, Olajuwon has a legitimate argument for being the NBA’s greatest big man of all time. The Houston Rockets superstar averaged 25 points per game and 10 in his sleep. He did everything offensively. He is one of the greatest defensive players ever. He won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.

Not only that, but during his prime, he was taking the souls of O’Neal, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. O’Neal himself has even admitted that Olajuwon tattooed him back in the day, and Shaq is one of the most prideful players the sport has ever seen.

In fact, during Olajuwon’s 1995 championship run in which he defeated O’Neal’s Orlando Magic, the big man posted an insane 33 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor throughout those playoffs.

For some reason, that postseason run gets largely overlooked when talking about the greatest playoff performances ever, much like Olajuwon’s entire career gets overlooked in general.

There are probably two or three players I would take over a prime Olajuwon: Jordan, and maybe Abdul-Jabbar and Bird.

That’s it.

Yes, recency bias is a thing, and Olajuwon’s back-to-back rings were smack dab in the middle of the Chicago Bulls’ pair of three-peats, so people don’t really talk about those Rockets teams.

But just go back and watch some of the games from those playoff runs. They are readily available on YouTube, so there are no excuses for anyone to say, “Well, I don’t really remember Olajuwon.” Just watch them.

There may not be another big man who faked more players out of their shoes than The Dream. Just ask Robinson.

Olajuwon had just about everything in the bag: Fakes, spins, step-throughs. He could even face up and put the ball on the floor like a guard, something few bigs in history have ever had the ability to do.

And if Olajuwon played in today’s game? There is no doubt he would also be stepping out and draining three-pointers at an incredibly efficient rate. Karl-Anthony Towns has a phenomenal offensive repertoire, and Olajuwon would put him to shame.

The funny thing is, Olajuwon’s inhuman offensive arsenal probably wasn’t even the most impressive part of his game.

His defense was.

The 1994 MVP also won a pair of Defensive Player of the Year awards. He averaged over four blocks per game three times in his career, including 4.6 blocks per game in 1989-90. He defended the pick-and-roll like nobody’s business. He could switch on to just about anybody.

There are only two other bigs — maybe just two other players, period — in NBA history who could measure up to Olajuwon defensively: Kevin Garnett and Duncan. That’s it. Everyone else is steps behind.

To yell at the clouds for a minute: Kids today just don’t understand how dominant Olajuwon was.

We typically hold prime Shaq to the standard of supreme dominance, and based on how much of a force he was at his peak, that’s understandable. But think about this for a second: Prime Olajuwon swept O’Neal in the finals and had him on skates throughout the entire series.

How can anyone possibly leave this man out of their top 10 list?

He won his first title in ’94 with minimal help. Seriously: Look at that roster. There was no second star. The second-leading scorer was Otis Thorpe, who was certainly a fine player but averaged just 14 points per game for his career. Yes, Sam Cassell was there, but he was a rookie getting 17 minutes per game.

The casual NBA fan probably wouldn’t even recognize most of the names on that list.

Name another star player who won a championship with less.

The following year in 1995, Houston won just 47 games during the regular season and finished with the No. 5 seed before Olajuwon decided to put the team on his back again in the playoffs. This time, he had Clyde Drexler, but the rest of the roster remained the same.

Olajuwon is not only a top 10 lock on any sanely considered list, but he is also a top-five player. Argue on this point as much as you like, but there’s no point in listening.

To say it again: Kids today just don’t know. Hakeem Olajuwon was that dude.