Shaq reflects on losing to Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets in NBA Finals

Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal (R) hugs Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon (Photo credit should read CALVIN KNIGHT/AFP via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal (R) hugs Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon (Photo credit should read CALVIN KNIGHT/AFP via Getty Images) /

Shaquille O’Neal provided an accurate explanation of what happened when his Orlando Magic ran up against the Houston Rockets in the 1995 NBA Finals.

The 1995 NBA Finals featured two of the greatest big men in NBA history, as Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon squared off against Shaquille O’Neal, who was with the Orlando Magic at the time. It wasn’t exactly surprising to see Orlando reach the Finals, as they finished with a 57-25 record, which was good for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

O’Neal’s heroics played a large part in Orlando’s success, as his 29.3 points led the league in scoring, which was an accomplishment he reached only twice in his 19-year career. This was also the second-best scoring finish Shaq ever had in a season, and O’Neal finished second in the MVP race behind David Robinson, who took home the award.

The Magic eliminated the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls during the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and faced off against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which was a series that went to seven games. Although Orlando was expected to reach the NBA Finals, the same couldn’t be said about the Houston Rockets, who they faced in that series.

The Rockets finished the season with a 47-35 record, which ultimately landed them the sixth seed in the Western Conference. But the Rockets proved to be battle-tested, as they eliminated each of the top three seeds in the West in their quest to repeat as NBA champions. As we now know, the Rockets ultimately won the title that year also, which was an outcome that surprised many, including Shaq.

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But Shaq provided an accurate explanation of what exactly happened during the series, as he was recently featured on the Knuckleheads podcast.

Shaq reflects on facing Rockets, Olajuwon in NBA Finals

“Hakeem busted my a-… We beat Houston that year. Hakeem would get his and I would get mine. So we were like ‘I got him. He’s gonna put up his numbers but he’s gonna have to guard me too.’ In the Finals he was just a different beast. I was like da-, this is a different Hakeem right here.”

Shaq brings up an interesting point regarding the Rockets and the Magic facing off during the regular season that year, as they played twice and Orlando won both matchups. In the first of the two games, Shaq had 30 points and seven rebounds, followed by a Herculean second performance in which he had 19 points, 20 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks.

By comparison, Olajuwon posted the following statlines in both games:

  • 27 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and two steals
  • 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, five steals, and two blocks

Based on the regular season games between the two teams, it’s understandable why Shaq and Orlando would’ve been confident heading into the Finals matchup against the Rockets, as they won by double-digits in both games. But a much different outcome awaited them in the Finals, as they were swept and sent home packing within four games.

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Olajuwon’s 32.5 points marked a series-best, and he added 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, two steals, and two blocks, while claiming the NBA Finals MVP award. It’s safe to say Shaq was right, Olajuwon was just a different beast.