NBA PM: The 1995 NBA MVP Myth
You’ve probably heard this story, even if you weren’t old enough to watch the situation play out firsthand.
Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon was not only the defending NBA Finals MVP in 1995, he was also the reigning regular season MVP from 1994. The 1995 season really belonged to David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs, however. San Antonio won 62 games that season behind the brilliant play of “The Admiral,” who averaged 27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and even 2.9 assists in 81 games.
The Spurs made quick work of the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping Denver in the first and taking out the Lakers 4-2 in the second. That set up a showdown between Texas rivals and MVP candidates Olajuwon and Robinson.
The Rockets won just 47 games in a season that would see them acquire Clyde Drexler at the trade deadline, and while Olajuwon’s numbers were great (27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.4 blocks, 1.8 steals), the overall success of the team would seem to be the deciding factor in the MVP vote.
All of this set up May 30th as a very special day in NBA history. It was the night David Robinson received the MVP trophy as Olajuwon and his Rockets looked on. It was also the night Olajuwon dropped 42 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists on Robinson, who managed just 22 points and amassed seven turnovers. Olajuwon powered Houston to a 111-90 win that gave the Rockets a 3-2 series lead, which they went on to close out en route to a sweep of Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals.
To this day, the predominant story about that fateful night in San Antonio is that Hakeem wanted to show Robinson up for winning the MVP when many thought Olajuwon should have received it for a second straight season. Hakeem, however, tells HOOPSWORLD a very different story.
“Against San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals the public and media were saying, ‘Oh they gave the MVP to David Robinson, so now I went after him.’ Was that true? That wasn’t true! Why? That year we won 47 games during the regular season. So, how was I expecting the MVP? This is a fact. David, they won 60-plus games and he played incredible. It was well deserved. He won it. He deserved it. So, I didn’t go at him because of the MVP, it was the Western Conference Finals. I wanted to win a championship. But I can’t change that, it’s the story. This is the story now and that’s it.”
Former Rockets point guard Kenny Smith, now a TV analyst, has often told the story of that night, saying that Hakeem told his teammates he wanted to ball to show up Robinson, but Olajuwon insists that wasn’t the reason.
“He said that, some of my teammates said that, that I was playing for the MVP,” says Olajuwon. “I was playing for a championship. I wanted the Western Conference Championship. I was playing against David, so I had to play my best. What else do you need motivation for? That’s my point. Once it’s out, you can’t change it. They still won’t believe you, but the fact is we won 47 games, and I was injured (missing 10 games). So I wasn’t expecting it that year. I wasn’t in a position for that. There was no questioning giving it to David, it was well deserved after a good season.”
Once a story gets engrained in the psyche of sports fans, it’s hard to change it. I, myself, grew up believing that Hakeem had simply posterized Robinson to show that he was the more deserving MVP. To sit and talk with Hakeem and hear his side of it, however, I realize that the story I have believed for so long was wrong. What we saw on May 30, 1995 was nothing more than an amazing player who wanted a championship more than anything and dismantling one of the biggest obstacles that stood in his path.
The Toughest Preseason Prediction
For the most part, the hard work of the NBA offseason is done. The draft and summer league are ancient history, the big trades are all in the books, all of the impact free agents have been signed and we’re down to just the last few roster spots and training camp invites. With just a little over a week to go before the start of training camp, fans across the country want to know how their teams will fare in 2012-13.
For some teams that question is fairly easy to answer. The Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are your sure-fire playoff teams in the West. The Miami HEAT, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks are your most likely playoff teams from the East.
That leaves only the toughest prediction of all – which teams will challenge for those last playoff spots?
On paper, it seems the Toronto Raptors are likely to push for the final playoff spot in the East. The key additions of Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross look like more than enough for the Raptors to get over the hump and finally return to postseason play. The problem is, they have to overcome one of the previously mentioned teams, all of which have playoff-tested veterans and absolutely expect to be back in the playoffs this season. It would seemingly take a major injury for one of those teams to fall out of the bracket, and while injuries do happen, these teams are also deep enough to sustain anything but a debilitating injury.
Can the Raptors snag a playoff spot? They will certainly be good enough to make it, but they will have to grow up quickly and count on one of the upper echelon teams slipping to actually realize that goal.
The West, of course, is a much tougher call.
As good as the West’s best teams are, there is a fairly significant drop off after the top seven, at which point most of the rest of the Western teams look equally good.
The Phoenix Suns could very easily be a playoff team. Goran Dragic has grown tremendously as a player since his first stint in Phoenix, Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson should have a new sense of urgency as they look to prove they belong in the NBA, and veterans like Luis Scola and Jermaine O’Neal should bring some leadership intangibles to the team. All of that said, there are a lot of “ifs” involved when talking about Phoenix. If Beasley is the bust that Miami and Minnesota believed him to be, the Suns are toast. If Scola’s knees prevent him from playing a significant role, the Suns are toast. If Dragic isn’t ready to be a full-time starter, the Suns are toast. When you have that many potential pitfalls on a team in the West, where the margin for error is so slim, it forecasts a precarious season ahead.
The Sacramento Kings could also jump into the playoff picture, but like the Suns, they have their share of “ifs.” If DeMarcus Cousins’ immaturity becomes an issue, the Kings are toast. If Aaron Brooks can’t learn to be more than a scoring point guard, the Kings are toast. If Tyreke Evans can’t find his jumper, if Thomas Robinson isn’t as good as we think he’s going to be… Again, in a West with the slimmest of slim margins, the Kings have an awful lot of gray areas.
Most people seem ready to dub the Golden State Warriors this year’s new Western Conference playoff team, and why not? Andrew Bogut is one of the best centers in the NBA when he’s healthy, the sky appears to be the limit for Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, and Carl Landry promises to be a nice addition to the front line. But what if Steph Curry’s ankle still isn’t right and Bogut can’t get healthy? All of a sudden, the Warriors aren’t the sure thing some believe them to be.
Those who aren’t on the Warriors’ bandwagon are almost certainly ready to dub the Minnesota Timberwolves a playoff team, yet even in Minnesota there are significant questions to be answered. First of all, Ricky Rubio has to be healthy and ready to take a significant step forward this season. Second, all of the buzz about Brandon Roy being ready to start and get back to playing All-Star-caliber basketball has to be at least partially true. Finally, Andrei Kirilenko has to be the intangible impact player for Minnesota that he was for the Utah Jazz for some many years. Finally, this has to be Nikola Pekovic’s break-out season. If any one of those things doesn’t happen, the Timberwolves could find making the playoffs a tough road to navigate.
What about the Utah Jazz? They snuck into the playoffs last season only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, but they have a core group of young and improving players and a better point guard in Mo Williams coming into the new season. It’s not out of the question that the Jazz could be a playoff team this season.
The truth is, in the West the only teams that seem reasonably certain to be on the outside looking in come playoff time are the New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, all of whom are in rebuilding mode.
We can make an educated guess about which teams will be left standing at the end of this year’s 82-game marathon, but setting the final playoff spots in either conference – and especially the West – in stone would be foolish. There are too many variables and too many unknowns to say for certain which teams will finish where.
But that’s what makes it fun to watch, right?
Michael Curry Next In Line?
Much has been written about the enormous additions to the Philadelphia 76ers’ roster this offseason, with Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson coming to town as part of the multi-team Dwight Howard trade, but one of the more significant additions to the team is actually a re-addition.
Associate head coach Michael Curry was nearly stolen away by the Orlando Magic, but not as part of the Dwight Howard trade. No, Curry was one of the final two candidates in Orlando’s head coaching search, and ultimately he was the odd man out when Jacque Vaughn was offered and accepted the position.
Sixers head coach Doug Collins couldn’t be happier to have Curry back in the mix.
“He is everything you could ever want in a coach,” Collins told Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News. “I have given him cart blanche to do what he wants on the floor. He has an amazing voice, is a tremendous leader and is as quality a human being as you will ever find.”
Collins would know, having coached him as a player with the Detroit Pistons and now coaching alongside him in Philadelphia.
As for Curry, he would have welcomed the opportunity in Orlando, but is happy to be back in Philadelphia.
“There’s no disappointment,” said Curry. “I was a late entry and I made it to the final two. Through the entire time, I think they had someone targeted. For me, it was more going through the process. It was all positive, and when you get in the process, you have to look at it that way. I enjoyed that part of it. I always concentrate on this year, like when I was playing. When I was a young head coach [with Detroit], I didn’t appreciate the process of all this as much, but I wasn’t disappointed at all. I have a great situation here.”
Curry is responsible for the 76ers’ defensive schemes, but he is also a sounding board for Collins when he gets frustrated.
“A lot of times when we’re riding to shootaround, we stop and get coffee and, depending on traffic, it could take 30 minutes to an hour,” Curry said. “During that time, a lot of game planning is done, but we may talk about basketball or something else, or I just let him vent, so once he’s in front of the guys, he’s not angry or upset or anything. I’ll ask him if he’s OK and now that we got that out, what’s next? There’s a lot of pressure on being a head coach, so venting is very important. At the same time, we know we have to get things done and we are both very tuned in to not missing anything. He felt comfortable turning the defense over to me and I know what he likes, what he wants to get done. I always bring [something] in to coach and say, ‘Here’s the tentative plan,’ and find out what he wants to do. But we cover everything, so we’re not blindsided by anything.”
So far, the close personal relationship between Curry and Collins, who refers to Curry as “like my son,” has served the 76ers well, and by all indications it will continue to do so. Don’t be surprised, however, if you see Curry’s name come up again the next time there is a head coach opening. If the Sixers are as good this season as they look set to be, he will get a lot of attention when other head coaching opportunities arise.
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