Ewing vs. Olajuwon. It's the only Hall-of-Fame big man basketball battle the sport's ever had on its two primary American stages (college and the pros) that lasted two decades. The leggy, friendly rivals played each other while at Georgetown (Ewing) and Houston (Olajuwon), then faced off dozens of times while in the NBA.
When you think about it, this tilt between titans might be the most underappreciated in basketball history. How often do we have centers -- legit centers, as they say -- play out their careers parallel to each other? Ewing entered the NBA one year after Olajuwon, and both retired in 2002. And to have gotten this from the time both were teenagers? Pretty terrific. Not only that, but they faced off when college basketball was at its best -- Ewing and Olajuwon were big factors in that fact -- and then ascended as Jordan, Bird and Magic brought the NBA to a new level.
David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard -- none of these centers have a true rival marching to the same timeline. For that, Ewing and Olajuwon remains particularly special. We could honestly go decades before witnessing two legitimate centers shoulder each other from start to finish.
Here's how they measure up against each other in regard to standard statistics, both regular season and playoffs.
But for all the meetings, there was only that one cherished clash, the Finals back in 1994, a seven-game forgotten classic. Olajuwon got the better of Ewing then, and as you can see, when you stack the careers of both bigs against each other, Hakeem gets the edge.
But let's look more at where and why. It was not all the Dream.
Ewing held his own, and in fact had seasons where his highs exceeded what Olajuwon ever did. Did those '94 Finals signify a split in careers for the two? Here's the points average and player efficiency ratings for the two leading up to that point.
In terms of championships, Olajuwon wins out 2-1, with Ewing's crown coming in 1984 as a Hoya -- beating Olajuwon along the way. Both played in three Final Fours. Ewing earned Player of the Year in college, something Olajuwon did not. But Olajuwon had an NBA MVP; Ewing did not.
From a discussion standpoint, the two's careers seems pretty close. But the stats bear out Olajuwon.
-- All-Star Games: Olajuwon 12-11
-- All-NBA First Team: Olajuwon 6-1
-- All-NBA Teams: Olajuwon 12-7
-- All-Defensive First Team: Olajuwon 5-0
-- Rebounding titles: Olajuwon 2-0
-- Blocks titles: Olajuwon 3-0
Following the meeting in the Finals, both players' numbers began to dip, naturally. Though Ewing had a surge in 1998.
Over the course of their careers, here's how they match up in PER and Offensive Rating.
Usage Rate is another stat that indicates how much a player factors in to a team's scheme. This is where Ewing shines.
The final ledger: the major traditional categories, even counting when Ewing was in Orlando and Olajuwon was in Toronto. The picture below is absolutely disgusting.