By: Rob Botts
Forget generations. Forget position. Forget about top 5. Who is the best post player of all time? Who is the one baller who should be selected above all others to shake, rattle and roll their way through, around, up and over would be defenders down low? For fun’s sake, I can only choose one. Feet to the fire time.
Over the history of the game, there have been many players small, medium and large that have gone into that little area located on either side of the “painted area” known also as the post. Many players have inflicted much damage upon their defenders in a multitude of ways over the years from the position also known as the block. The “back to the basket” game is a very important option for coaches to be able to use in isolation situations, or dump down passes off of a pick and roll where the defender has blocked their path to the basket. Instead of said defender choosing to be finished like a hot knife through butter by a drive to the bucket, they chose to stop (when they could) Olajuwon’s progression to the hoop and now has guaranteed a new fate for themselves. At that point, the hot knife turned into a swiss jack-knife full of moves that shredded them like a honey badger ripping through a bee hive for that tasty, sticky, golden ooze.
After thinking about all the options, I came down to two hall-of-famers; choosing my number one to share with the world. It was between Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Kevin “The Black Hole” McHale. Both are worthy candidates, but there can only be one. Even though Kevin McHale had so many moves that he even forgot a few of his own, I am going with “The Dream.” Let me tell you why.
First of all, Hakeem was really, really big and strong. He could fight and get almost every single time the back to the basket position he wanted in the post. And when he didn’t get that position that he obviously CHOSE not to get, he would spin around and face up the defender. It’s like being able to show the audience two really good movies in completely separate genres. The back to the basket is your belly aching screwball comedy, while the face up game is the award-winning drama that has you in tears. Now after Hakeem had established the strategic position he had wanted, then he would bring out the tools. What were his tools? The many, many, many different post moves that he had commanding control over. These moves started with his incredible feet and what they ended up doing to the opposition. They slid, glided, stomped, shuffled and tapped their way around defenders. They were incredibly quick and nimble to the point where he was like Apollo Creed, dancing to wherever he wanted to go, while the other player was Rocky Balboa, bumbling and stumbling around in comparison.
Olajuwon would use his other extremities as well to fake out the defender. He would throw head, shoulder, arms and hip fakes towards the other team. All designed to get the opponent off-balance, which he did almost every single time. He would then deliver a beautiful jump hook with either hand that would drop through the basket before anybody knew what happened. When not using the jump hook, he would then fake the hook and rush to deliver the up and under move to the bucket (ask former MVP and San Antonio legend David Robinson how that move felt). He also would employ the famous “Dream Shake”, where he would shimmy from left to right his hips while his back was to the basket, and then fade either left or right to the baseline and nail a sweet fade away, high-arching jumper. Hakeem also had a power game when he wasn’t in a good mood or somebody said something foolish to him. He would face up and then use his incredible quickness for a big man to slide by the defender and power up to throw the ball through the rim with such force that nobody even tried to block it. He would give constant fits to the best post defenders in the league in the most amazing of ways. Whether it was going to a swooping hook through the lane, or spinning and winning with a soft kiss off the glass, the man had it all in the post.
Trying to change fate in sports and in life can sometimes be futile. You couldn’t change the fate of the basketball when it was in Hakeem’s hands in the post. What was the basketball’s fate? To end up through the rim, enabling his team to have two more points than it previously just had. Nobody in the history of the NBA had more inventive, effective and elusive skills from the post position to get those two points than Hakeem Olajuwon. His fate was not only to be known throughout the world as one of the greatest players of all time but to be known to yours truly as the greatest post player of all time, as well.
(featured image courtesy of Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)