When he was James Harden’s age, Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon faced the same criticisms facing The Beard, until he silenced everyone.
With the playoffs heating up for the Houston Rockets, one massive criticism of James Harden‘s individual success is the fact that he still doesn’t have a championship ring. No matter how many accolades he earns or records he breaks, that will always be the knock on him.
There was another Rockets great that faced some of the same criticisms throughout his time in Houston: the great Hakeem Olajuwon. The Dream faced scrutiny for the first nine years of his career.
Even though social media didn’t exist, things reached a boiling point before the 1993-94 season when Olajuwon was almost traded. Then, Olajuwon and the Rockets brought the city of Houston its first championship. Now the same age as Hakeem was when he won his first title, that’s not the only parallel between the two greatest Rockets ever.
Bringing the Houston Rockets from mediocrity to the playoffs
When the Houston Rockets drafted Olajuwon in 1984, they were coming off two of their worst seasons in franchise history. In 1982-83, they went 14-68. The following year: 29-53. When Olajuwon arrived, everything changed instantly. The Rockets improved by 29 games and made the playoffs for the first time in three years.
Harden faced a similar situation when he arrived in 2012. The season before, the Rockets missed the playoffs with a 34-32 record and had not made the playoffs in the three prior seasons. As with Olajuwon, the Rockets’ fortune changed once Harden arrived. The Rockets finished 45-37 and made the playoffs right away upon his arrival.
Great individual years but no ultimate prize
From 1984-93, the Houston Rockets only missed the playoffs once, reaching the NBA Finals in 1986 but losing 4-2 to the Boston Celtics. Hakeem Olajuwon made multiple All-Star appearances and All-NBA Teams. Olajuwon, however, started to become increasingly frustrated with the team not improving in the early 90s.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in his career in 1991-92, Olajuwon came close to being traded before finally coming to a resolution with the front office. Up until the 1993-94 season, the question from critics and some fans was: can Olajuwon actually lead a team to a title?
Harden also has had plenty of individual accomplishments in his career, winning an MVP and multiple scoring titles, and also having several All-Star appearances and All-NBA First Team selections.
The Rockets have also been to the Western Conference Finals twice in Harden’s tenure, coming within one game of reaching the Finals in 2017-18. Still, with social media being prevalent in today’s age, the scrutiny on Harden not making it any further is at an all-time level.
Can James Harden follow Olajuwon’s path?
At 31, Hakeem brought Houston its first NBA championship ever and finally ended the debate about if he could lead a team to a title. When discussing all-time great players today, the argument against Harden always centers around choking in the playoffs.
Even though James Harden has had plenty of great postseason performances, this narrative still comes up every postseason. Harden has played with an All-Star in only one season throughout his playoffs runs up until this year, and even this postseason, he had to keep the team afloat as Russell Westbrook missed the first four games.
James Harden just turned 31 and has never missed the playoffs in any of his years as the lead man in Houston. This year might be Harden’s best chance, as there aren’t any teams as dominant as the Warriors teams Harden has lost to multiple times.
This has been one of the most unique and challenging years in modern history, not just from a basketball point of view but from a worldwide perspective.
If James Harden can bring home a title this year, it would finally quiet the critics and elevate Harden up the all-time list, just like it did for the great Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994.