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Ball Don't Lie

The Knicks are keeping Hakeem Olajuwon all to themselves, hiring the legend to work with the team’s big men

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon fail to yell "SAME!" (Getty Images)

In recent years, Basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon has acted as a sensei-for-hire of sorts for stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. All have taken the summer trek down to Olajuwon's Texas home to work through the same sort of low-post tutelage that Moses Malone gave Olajuwon as a young buck some 30 years ago.

The New York Knicks are desperately trying to find a way to mesh the formidable talents of Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudmire and Carmelo Anthony, turning a star-studded frontcourt into a championship-level core. They've yet to find consistent chemistry while on the court together, the team plays far better with Anthony taking Stoudemire's place up front, Chandler and Carmelo could still use some footwork tips, and Stoudemire has already worked under Olajuwon this summer.

Then there's the upcoming NBA training camps, which mean players can't individually fly to Texas to get that one-on-one work. Olajuwon (a former teammate of current Knicks coach Mike Woodson) wants to help, for a price, and the Knicks need the tutelage. Why not make Hakeem the guy who is flying in this time. Eh? Eh. Go New York, go New York, go.

From ESPN's Chris Broussard:

Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the greatest players in NBA history and the architect of the legendary "Dream Shake" post move, will spend several days next week training some of their players at the team's practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y.

Olajuwon worked out with Stoudemire earlier this summer, training the Knicks center for two-and-a-half weeks in the gymnasium on his 400-acre ranch outside of Houston. Olajuwon, who was able to excel alongside superstar teammates Ralph Sampson and Clyde Drexler, said there's no reason Stoudemire and Anthony can't have similar success playing next to one another.

"They both have to realize that the most important thing is not how great you are individually," Olajuwon said. "You're remembered for how many games you win. So to get to play with another great offensive player should help you. It should make your job easier. You have to work well together. You can't be competitors with one another."

You'll notice that Broussard left Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen out of the list of superstars Olajuwon excelled with. It's probably accurate, and an interesting footnote as Hakeem takes to the Knicks.

Barkley joined Drexler and Olajuwon before the 1996-97 season, and though the team was bereft of second-tier stars following the depth-destroying deal for Charles (rounding out the roster with rookie scale types and veterans like Eddie Johnson who were making the NBA minimum), they still eked out 57 wins and were one John Stockton jump shot away from making their third NBA Finals in four years.

The wins piled up. The offense, seventh overall in spite of hefty minutes given to role players, was good enough. And the team nearly took it, losing just barely to a championship-level Utah Jazz team in a close sixth game.

By the second year, though, teams were sort of on to these Rockets.

The injuries piled up, as Barkley and Drexler's repeated absences were a big part of the swoon that left them at .500 on the year, but it was the nature of Barkley and Olajuwon's attack that left them an easy team to guard. Either Hakeem would head to the left low block to post up, while four people stood around, or Barkley would. When Scottie Pippen took Drexler's place before the 1999 season, he found a stilted and easy-to-cover team that barely resembled the free flowing Chicago Bulls he played with the season before. Left block, back 'em down.

The current Knicks aren't as obvious. For one, Tyson Chandler rarely posts up. Anthony has plenty of moves on either side of the court, even if he too often relies on some of his worst options offensively, and Stoudemire remains a versatile player offensively even his shots were finding the bottom of the net fewer and fewer times in 2011-12 (and, most worryingly, the months after Anthony showed up midway through 2010-11).

The parallels are in place, though. And while Olajuwon can help, and thinks that a low-post attack featuring either Stoudmire or Anthony (with the other lodged just atop the free throw line) can work, Dream was at his best by himself in the low post while four shooters (including power forwards like Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, and Pete Chilcutt) looked on. Garbled interior messes like New York's — and that's assuming Anthony ignores his low percentage instincts and takes it to the paint — are a tougher nut to crack.

Hakeem will try, though; and it's certainly smart of the Knicks to put the cash down to bring the two-time champion (including one title, following a seven game Finals battle, against the Knicks in 1994) to their facility during the fall, acing 29 other teams along the way.

For those wondering why Olajuwon won't be with the team throughout the season, working on that post work? It's not feasible — there is barely enough practice and development time as it is during the regular season, and this only works unless Olajuwon wants to be away from home for over seven months as a full-time assistant coach. It's probable that he doesn't want that sort of racket, and the open slot on the Knicks' assistant staff is likely to be filled by LaSalle Thompson.

The onus, as it was when Olajuwon was merely coaching Stoudemire, is on the players to make it work. To go, as Dream usually did, to the highest-percentage move as close to the basket as possible. As fans of the low-post art, even if you scoff at the Knicks for piling up the big names, this is something to root for. Credit the Knicks for paying enough to bring Olajuwon north, and encourage this sort of cohesion.
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