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Monday August 22, 2011 9:07 AM

A Dream Come True


Reliving Hakeem Olajuwon's historic quadruple-double performance

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Of all the amazing, mindboggling aspects of Hakeem Olajuwon’s quadruple-double 21 years ago – just the third such recorded performance in NBA history at the time, and only one other has been achieved since – one fact still strikes me as the most incredible of them all: little more than three weeks prior to Dream’s 18 point, 16 rebound, 11 block and 10 assist evisceration of the Milwaukee Bucks, Olajuwon nearly accomplished the same singular feat against the Golden State Warriors, missing out on the quad by just a single assist – a point of contention between Rockets officials and the league, as a disputed first quarter dime was ruled null and void by the NBA, meaning Houston’s all-world center had to be content with a lowly line that included “only” 29 points, 18 boards, 11 blocks and 9 paltry assists.

That’s right, Olajuwon very nearly delivered this superhuman achievement of NBA skill and versatility twice in the span of a single month. The man was an absolute monster, plain and simple.

But the passage of time has a tendency to erode even the best of memories and it’s easy to forget just how dominant Dream was back in the day. So what better way to dispose of those mental cobwebs and dust bunnies than to relive Olajuwon’s historic night in its entirety, documenting his dominance minute by minute?

Since Peabody and Sherman’s WABAC Machine is currently in the shop undergoing repairs, Youtube will have to suffice for now. Apologies in advance.

And we’re (retroactively) live from the fabulous Houston Summit! Houston broadcast legend Bill Worrell is on the mic doing play-by-play while former Rocket Mike Newlin provides color commentary.

Milwaukee (37-32) enters the game with a better record than the Rockets (33-36) but there are ominous hints of what awaits them before the contest even tips off. With leading scorer (and Rice University superstud) Ricky Pierce out with an injury and starting center Jack Sikma banged up as well, the Bucks are sure to be offensively challenged and utterly helpless when it comes to dealing with Dream inside. Unless, that is, you think the likes of Larry Krystowiak, Brad Lohaus and Greg “Cadillac” Anderson are up to the task. Didn’t think so.

5:10 – The first true highlight of the game comes not from Olajuwon, but courtesy of fourth-year forward Buck Johnson, who’s in the process of enjoying what would turn out to be his best season in the NBA. The “Buckaroo,” as Bill likes to call him, averaged a career-high 14.8 points and 4.6 rebounds during the ’89-’90 season, and really excelled in the open court. Exhibit A comes in the form of this clip, during which he swats Jay Humphries’ layup attempt to trigger the break on one end, then blows by everyone to finish with a fine one-hander at the other.

5:38 – Showing that he is in fact human, despite myriad signs to the contrary, Olajuwon collects his 6th rebound of the game then promptly throws an outlet pass out of bounds, giving him three turnovers through just four minutes of action. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Rockets head coach Don Chaney never once contemplated removing Dream from the bench for committing such an egregious offense. And yes, that kind of expert analysis is precisely why I make the big bucks (and also why I’ll never be found on an NBA bench – barring a zombie apocalypse, that is).

8:40 – Milwaukee’s Alvin Robertson drains a bucket to bring the Bucks within 6 about halfway through the first quarter. Robertson’s presence in this game serves as an interesting footnote, because he recorded a quadruple-double himself just four years earlier while with the San Antonio Spurs.

:40 – Hinting at the devastation he will unleash upon David Robinson (himself a member of the uber-exclusive quadruple-double club) five years from now, Olajuwon goes to work on the low block, executing as textbook an up-an-under as you are ever likely to see. Given that the Admiral couldn’t handle Dream's infinite array of lowpost moves during his MVP year, it goes without saying that Cadillac Anderson, UH Cougar roots and all, can’t either.

3:16 – With about three minutes remaining in the first quarter, Olajuwon heads to the bench for his first breather of the game. Just from a viewing standpoint it seems as if Dream has been relatively quiet – by his lofty standards, anyway – in the opening frame, yet he still takes a seat having collected 7 points and 7 rebounds through his first nine minutes of work. Reason No. 1,234 why life’s better when you have a future Hall of Famer on your team: even when they’re not operating at maximum capacity, they’re still able to leave a huge impact on the game in ways both quantifiable and intangible.

1:42 – These Rockets, much like the current incarnation of the team, want to run at every opportunity and their prowess in transition is absolutely tearing up Milwaukee thus far. Case in point: Watch the way Vernon Maxwell ventures into the lane amongst the giants for a defensive rebound, hauls it in, then explodes down the court to trigger a 3-on-2 fastbreak that ends in an and-1 opportunity for Otis Thorpe, who finishes the play with a patented one-handed jam over the top of a helpless Jay Humphries. This clip provides a terrific teaching point for coaches who preach the virtues of up-tempo basketball; this was by no means a tailor-made fastbreak opportunity, but Maxwell’s aggression both on the boards and in pushing the pace served to simultaneously manufacture both a 3-point play and an instantly energized crowd.

2:30 – The Rockets are off and running once again the very next time down the floor. Lohaus misses a trey, Thorpe corrals the rebound and instantly fires it the full length of the court to a streaking Johnson for another easy layup.

By the way, I sat down to watch this game fully intending to focus on Olajuwon, but it’s impossible to view the video and not feel serious pangs of nostalgia for the criminally underrated Otis Thorpe. With his massive hands that held a basketball as if it were a tangerine, OT swallowed up rebounds, threw down dunk after dunk, and was an absolute master at the art of the outlet pass. The man was a model of metronomic consistency, but also suprisingly fun to watch with his flair for flinging baseball-type passes every time he snatched a defensive board.

2:45 – Olajwon re-enters the game in the second quarter and almost immediately proceeds to throw his own personal block party. Forgot about his “quiet” first quarter; Dream is now swatting everything in sight, including this emphatic rejection of Robertson’s ill-advised floater. Box score update: with more than six minutes still remaining in the half, Olajuwon now has 13 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks and 3 assists.

4:45 – Pretty much perfectly encapsulating everything I’ve discussed during this first half of highlights, Dream rejects Anderson for block No. 6, Thorpe collects the loose ball, then proceeds to dribble the length of the floor past three Milwaukee defenders on his way for a sensational running one-handed stuff. So to sum up: the Rockets’ superhuman center has posted a “do not enter” sign in the painted area, while the team’s power forward has shown himself to be a one-man fastbreak. Makes you think that if these guys had just a little more help they might go on to accomplish something special some day.

1:23 – The Rockets are on the run once again, only this time Sleepy Floyd decides to pull up in transition for a 17-foot jumper that clangs harmlessly off the rim. One thing you’ll quickly notice while watching video of games from this era: WAY more midrange jumpers than you see in the game today. So many, in fact, that I fear Daryl Morey’s psyche might be irrevocably damaged if he were made to view the film himself, “A Clockwork Orange” style; strapped to a chair, eyes forced open, subjected to the sight of one needlessly inefficient shot after another being flung toward the hoop from 16-23 feet away. He’d surely be sobbing and begging for mercy within five minutes, max. Fortunately, we now live in more enlightened times, and the quest for the hoops holy grail (a game in which all Rockets shots are layups, 3s or free throws) draws ever closer to a happy conclusion.

More good news: the Rockets take a commanding 63-45 lead into halftime and Olajuwon is on his way toward history. Click here for Part 2 and all the highlights from the second half.

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