Suns Centers Receive "Dream" Education

By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Jan. 3, 2012

When you think of post moves, you think of Hakeem. Olajuwon, that is.

Since retiring from basketball, the Hall of Famer and former MVP spends his offseason tutoring NBA big men on their inside games. This past offseason, he inherited two new students from the Suns: Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez.

“It’s so much fun for me,” Olajuwon said. “Teaching forces me to go back and break down the moves I used to do instinctively.”

After talking with Olajuwon for even a brief period of time, it becomes quite apparent that he is operating on another level of consciousness. Chatting it up with Olajuwon seems analogous to what it’s like to encounter a guru, shaman or kung fu master.

“The Dream” is like the Bruce Lee of post moves, always a step ahead of his opponent. Instead of training as a traditional big man, Olajuwon garnered the skills of a small forward to perplex defenders.

He never wanted to be just a great big man. He wanted to be a great basketball player.

“It’s all about taking what the defense is giving you,” he said. “You face up if they’re bigger than you or take the jump shot if they give you space.”

Although many view Olajuwon as the type to develop an unstoppable move to use against any defender, the former All-NBA performer claimed that he would attack his opponent based on what advantages he was given and how he was being played.

And it wasn’t as if Olajuwon was a born offensive talent or someone who inherited all of his moves from a legendary mentor. In fact, when Olajuwon entered the league, he was known for his defense.

In order to make his team better, Olajuwon undertook the task of becoming a better scorer. To do so, Olajuwon didn’t watch video of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton, he studied unknown players that would pull off a nice move against him in a game of half-court 3-on-3.

“I didn’t look at the stars,” he said. “I would look at players that had no name. I would just like the style of some skilled college guys that I played against in the summer.”

After discovering a move in this manner, Olajuwon would break down the goal of the move and find out how it created space for him. It’s exactly how he teaches his students today.

“In the beginning it’s uncomfortable for them,” he said. “At the end of two to three days, they love it and it becomes their move. It becomes natural.”

When he worked with Gortat and Lopez, Olajuwon saw tremendous opportunity for growth.

“(Marcin) has an unbelievable love of the game,” the Hall of Fame center said. “He has a passion to learn and soak up everything. I like his mentality, skills and approach, and I can’t wait to see him play.”

He also extended a warm compliment to Lopez, calling him “impressive” and “fantastic.”

“I am amazed by his touch,” Olajuwon said. “He has a nice soft touch for a big guy.”

After the season is over, he expects Gortat and Lopez to return for some more instruction. At that point, Olajuwon will receive feedback from them on their past season.

From there, he’ll work on expanding what he’s already taught them and create a new list of goals. For Olajuwon, it’s apparent that teaching has become his new passion.

And whether or not it’s Gortat, Lopez or another player, he tailor-fits his training for every individual.

“It’s like you have a house, but you don’t have a blueprint,” he said. “Now you have to re-build with a new blueprint.”

Unrelated Notes of Interest

There was no way to fit this into the story, but Suns fans would appreciate some of the memories “The Dream” had about playing against Phoenix. First off, he said he always looked forward to playing in the Valley and against Charles Barkley.

But he specifically brought up their meeting during the 1994 NBA Playoffs.

“I just remember it was a great, great series because we were up by 20 points and they came back and beat us twice at home,” Olajuwon stated.

The Suns jumped out to a 2-0 series lead as they returned to Phoenix to host the newly-named league MVP Olajuwon and the Rockets. Olajuwon recalled some Suns fans bringing brooms to the game because they thought they were going to sweep the Rockets.

However, Houston rallied and the series went seven games before the Suns fell in Game 7.

Besides ripping Suns fans’ hearts out during the playoffs, Olajuwon also remembered Kevin Johnson’s famous dunk over him during that series.

“To be the MVP and shotblocking leader, that’s going to be a part of the game,” Olajuwon said lightheartedly. “He got me on that one, but I’ve gotten them so many times, so that was revenge (from all of my blocked shots and dunks).

“It was a give-and-take. To be a shotblocker, you cannot win all the time. But it didn’t happen too often.”

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