When asked if he’d be willing to teach his one and only friend the finer arts in constructing a believable lie, a proud George Costanza quickly dismissed the request: “Jerry, I can’t. It’s like saying to Pavorotti, ‘Teach me to sing like you.'”
Just because someone instructs a lesson to another person, it doesn’t necessarily mean things will click; physical abilities don’t permeate from one body to another by a magical touch, and some students simply don’t have the same mental capacity as their teacher. That’s life. But in the NBA, the players we’re discussing here are the best of the best—450 fate controlled lottery winners—and if they were to have someone whose sole job was to teach them the finer arts of, say, footwork in the low post, then we might be on to something.
In my very first post for Red94, I discussed the importance of what can happen if Kevin McHale and Luis Scola are able to form a mutually beneficial professional relationship. McHale owns the most effective low post moves in league history, won three championships as a player, and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Even though the hire seemed a tad unorthodox at the time, he’s smart and should fit in well with the eager group of guys who’re ready to be lead.
Unfortunately for players looking to tap the gold mine of knowledge McHale preserves, the man is a head coach and has far more important responsibilities to tend to, such as designing offensive and defensive sets, experimenting with lineups, and, you know, coaching to win ball games.
But where a door closes, so opens an obvious window. Over the last few years, the greatest player in Houston Rockets history, Hakeem Olajuwon, has become a back to the basket horse whisperer, helping Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James fine tune their fundamental post moves in the hope that they too can add a dependable, borderline unstoppable supplement to their offensive attack. These are arguably the three best players in the world, guys who are good enough to create substantial legacies and who recognize that long after they’re gone, their achievements will live and breathe as long as people care.
There are two obvious precedents to Hakeem coming on board, should he ever choose to give up his role as a pick-and-choose consultant: Patrick Ewing in Orlando and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles. The latter was a fruitful relationship—while it lasted—with an 18-year-old Andrew Bynum, but revealing comments by Kareem regarding the young seven-footer’s stubbornness soured things.
In Orlando, Ewing’s partnership with the league’s best center, Dwight Howard, has been strange in the sense that the teacher might not be up to the task of sucking every ounce of skill his prodigious student has to give. I know it’s the lockout, and Howard isn’t allowed to meet with any team employees (Ewing included) but his seeking out of Hakeem feels more meaningful. It feels like bigger news, like we should be expecting even more from Howard at our next public viewing. Ewing was a great center, but never the undisputed best active player at his position, like Hakeem. It’s something he’ll never share with Howard and thus there will always be that invisible, half-awkward separation between the two. He can never tell Howard what it takes to win a championship or what it felt like to be the baddest center walking and have 29 other starters tremble in his path. These are only questions Olajuwon can answer.
According to rumor, Hakeem doesn’t want to exclusively work for Houston. He’s enjoying his professorial bachelorhood, as he as every right to do. But if the Rockets were to somehow sway Olajuwon’s way of thinking with an offer he can’t refuse, then several incredibly important dominoes could fall in the team’s favor.
3) The most obvious reason: He’d help every Rocket. Olajuwon doesn’t limit his help for clumsy big men. He’s worked with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, two wing players who’ve relied on athleticism for the majority of their careers and haven’t “needed” to score with their back to the basket. Imagine if Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee can get a nifty mid-range turn around to drop, or Marcus Morris and Chuck Hayes are able to elude slower defenders with a point blank face up game. Keep in mind that the man’s a mere mortal, but what if Olajuwon can reach Thabeet? All of this is exciting to think about.
2) Hiring Hakeem Olajuwon is, in effect, taking a wanted man off the market. Players like LeBron, Kobe, and Dwight Howard won’t be able to utilize the coveted resource, which benefits the Rockets in two ways: 1) While already disgusting basketball players who’d no doubt find success with or without Hakeem’s tutelage, this prevents them from access to the game’s most popular teacher—seeking Olajuwon’s sage advice has become a symbolic maneuver in recent years; a sign that a certain player is willing to reach above and beyond his normal comfort zone to actually get better at basketball, and 2) If a player really wants Hakeem’s help, he could always sign with the Rockets, leading me to the number one reason the Rockets hiring of Olajuwon could send shock waves throughout the NBA…
1) Dwight Howard chooses to sign with Houston instead of re-upping in Orlando, making the Rockets’ fan base forget about their recently tortured past and instead focus all their energy on a perennial title contending future. Obviously no player would base such a monumental decision on a simple coaching hire, but in this case, it could serve as sweet icing on the cake. Not frilly, decorative icing, I’m talking enough to tip the scales and knock the cake over. The Rockets are a young team containing almost all the necessary pieces an organization needs in order to win a championship. The one thing they lack, which happens to be the most vital ingredient, is a superstar. The roster’s loaded with complementary pieces and dependable studs, but Kevin Martin can’t be the best player on a champion. It’s easy to say the Rockets need a superstar like Dwight Howard, but literally every team in the league would make the same claim. When discussing who fits and who doesn’t, Houston is a not so far-fetched rational destination. And once a player of that caliber signs on, veteran savvy ring-chasers usually climb aboard.
Hiring Hakeem Olajuwon to assist player development would be one of the smartest, most diabolical moves any team could make with its staff. There’s no doubt Houston’s upper management has visited the idea, and if it hasn’t happened by now it probably won’t. Just think of what could be, though, with Morey and McHale making their pitch to Dwight as he goes through his mini-LeBron Spring of speculation. It sure would be nice to have Hakeem Olajuwon in that room. When is it not?