Loud and outspoken or quiet and humble. The careers of Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon are quite different, but there’s no denying that both of them are two of the greatest big men to ever grace our league. A lot of NBA fans will know all about Garnett and his exploits, but few are probably aware of just how good Olajuwon was at the peak of his powers. So when we stack them against one another, who rules supreme? It’s time to Compare the Pair.
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It may surprise people to learn that Hakeem only played in two more career playoff games than Garnett, with KG failing to advance past the first round for the first seven seasons of his career. That wasn’t exactly his fault though, with the Timberwolves star averaging 21 PPG, 12 RPG and 5 APG on those god-awful Minnesota teams prior to his MVP season in 2004. Once he joined the Celtics, Garnett was able to feature in deeper postseason runs, including a pair of Finals appearances over a three-year span. Hakeem wasn’t forced to wait as long as KG, helping the Houston Rockets break through for their first Finals appearance in just his second pro season.
While they were no match for the 1985-86 Celtics, Olajuwon held his own with averages of 24.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG and 3.2 BPG in the six-game series. The famous center was somewhat of a passenger in his final few years in the league, but in 14 seasons with the Rockets he was the driving force that equated in a playoff berth every season, 16 series wins and a pair of NBA championships. His superior per-game averages and helping Houston emerge as a perennial playoff threat give Hakeem the edge in this category.
Image from yardbarker.com
This one may be closer than people assume. Throughout Garnett’s career, the power forward averaged over 20 PPG in nine consecutive seasons, however, his scoring average dried up when he joined the Boston Celtics. Sitting 18th on the NBA’s list for career points, the “Big Ticket” came through when it mattered most, scoring in big bunches throughout his postseason career when he was called upon. For Olajuwon, he produced a high points total from the moment he entered the league, producing a scoring average over 20 points in every year from his rookie season until his 14th season in the league. He increased his scoring output when the playoffs rolled around as well, averaging an impressive 30.9 PPG across 45 games during the two postseasons that resulted in championships. KG deserves credit, but his counterpart takes the cake offensively.
Both bigs were primarily known for their defensive prowess during their playing days. Olajuwon and Garnett are part of an elite five player group as the only ones to have ever won MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honours throughout their career. Hakeem ended his career as the all-time leader in blocked shots, with over 500 more than the next closest player. He claimed the annual blocks title three times in his career and grabbed more boards than anyone on two occasions, making nine All-Defence teams during his playing days.
KG, on the other hand, was a 4x rebound champ and qualified for 12 All-Defence teams in his career, tying the record for the most first-team selections with nine. Olajuwon edges him out for blocks, but Garnett clearly has the edge in rebounding and made more All-Defence teams throughout his career. Honestly, I can’t split the pair and it may seem like a cop-out, but I’m settling for a draw between the pair when it comes to defensive impact.
GARNETT – 2008 NBA Finals Game 6
Anything is possible! That quote will be forever linked to Kevin Garnett after his outpouring of emotion following their triumph in the 2008 NBA Finals. In his first season with the Celtics, they were able to capture an elusive championship with Garnett the catalyst for their success. His crowning moment in that season came in the closeout game, where KG recorded 26 points and 14 rebounds in a blowout W over the Lakers.
OLAJUWON – 1994 NBA Finals Game 6
While Hakeem is best known for shaking defenders out of their sneakers on the low block, he also had some pivotal moments throughout his career that helped separate him from his peers. People tend to forget that back in the ’94 Finals, Olajuwon made one of the most crucial plays of his career, blocking a potential title-winning 3 by John Starks to hand the Rockets a Game 6 win. Houston finished the job a few days late, winning the first championship in franchise history thanks in large part to Olajuwon.
It may be a bit of recency bias with Hakeem’s block hardly mentioned anymore, but I’m siding with Garnett. His postgame interview after an MVP calibre season throughout 2008 will be played for years to come.
Two chock-a-block resumes full of career accolades make it hard to split this pair. Hakeem edges out Garnett in Finals MVPs (2-0), Defensive Player in the Year awards (2-1) and All-NBA team selections (12-9), however, the former Minnesota/Boston star has more All-Star appearances (15-12), All-Defence team nods (12-9) and he snagged an All-Star MVP award back in 2003 too. Capturing back-to-back NBA titles gives Olajuwon the advantage over his counterpart, with greater career totals for points, blocks and steals, despite playing 200 fewer games than Garnett. It’s tight, but Hakeem gets the win here.
One could make the case that Hakeem Olajuwon is the most forgotten basketball star of all time. The soft-spoken champion is rarely heard from or sighted since his playing days concluded, spending some time helping current big men hone their craft, but preferring to spend his time out of the limelight. KG is quite the opposite, with the loud, brash, low-post maestro still well-known publicly by basketball fans. His Area 21 appearances saw him take up residence as a member of the basketball media while serving roles as a consultant for the Clippers and the Bucks following his playing career.
However, just because Garnett is more vocal and frequent in his appearances following his NBA journey, that doesn’t give him the advantage over Hakeem. The architect of ‘the Dream Shake’ Olajuwon’s impact on the game of basketball reached the far corners of the globe, with multiple players such as Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokoumpo heaping praise on Hakeem for paving the way for international players to dream big that they too can one day reach the NBA.
Image from 90min.com
VERDICT – Hakeem Olajuwon
Kevin Garnett deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest big men to ever play at the top level, but make no mistake, Hakeem Olajuwon was better. For nearly two decades, Olajuwon used his incredible footwork to terrorise opposing defences and he was the architect behind the back-to-back championships the Rockets won in the mid-90’s. Hailing from Nigeria, Hakeem was able to become a global basketball icon and his success in the NBA gave future generations motivation that they could one day follow in his footsteps. Garnett may be considered the best power forward to ever lace them up and there are very few players that competed at the same level of intensity as the Big Ticket. In the end though, there can only be one winner and in this head-to-head, that honour belongs to Hakeem Olajuwon.