Eight time zones away from the NBA Finals, Hakeem Olajuwon is one proud big brother.
Olajuwon is in Amman, Jordan, but the Hall of Famer will be paying close attention as Heat forward LeBron James seeks to win his first NBA title in his third Finals appearance.
Olajuwon, a Muslim who splits his time between Jordan and his ranch outside Houston, believes it will happen. That’s because Olajuwon is beginning to see the post moves he showed James last summer really paying off.
“If he relaxes and just plays his game, he’ll be fine and I think (the Heat) win it,” said Olajuwon, who said he has become like a “big brother” to James in the past year.
Olajuwon knows a bit about winning championships. The legendary center led Houston to titles in 1994 and 1995, each time being named Finals MVP.
James, disappointed after his Heat lost the Finals last year to Dallas, sought out Olajuwon to help him with his post moves. The two worked out at Olajuwon’s ranch during three-hour sessions over four straight days last August.
In an interview 3 1/2 months ago with FOX Sports Florida, Olajuwon talked about how it still would take some time for James to become fully comfortable with his new moves. After watching James in the playoffs, especially his 45-point, 15-rebound showing in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, Olajuwon believes the time has come.
“You look at a lot of the moves, and it was unbelievable to watch,” said Olajuwon, speaking Monday by phone from Jordan about having seen that Game 6 last Thursday in the Middle East. “The way they were executed it was a joy to watch because I know that we worked on that, and to see him using it at a most crucial time. He is in a comfort zone, and he is doing it how he is supposed to do it.”
After being in Jordan during the winter, Olajuwon returned to Texas, where he was from mid-March until three weeks ago. Before leaving the US, Olajuwon talked on the phone with James.
The discussion came after James had totaled 40 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists in a May 20 win over Indiana that knotted up their East semifinal series at 2-2.
“He seemed very relaxed,” Olajuwon said. “He was talking about the position of the team and he was very confident they would get it done. He talked about Chris Bosh (the Heat forward who was out nine games with an abdominal strain but returned for Game 5 against Boston) being out, but he felt that they would get together and get it done. He said it, and he proved it.”
Olajuwon offered some advice to James, who last month won his third MVP after averaging 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists during the regular season.
“I just encouraged him to feel relaxed and feel comfortable and just be himself, and he must play his game,” Olajuwon said. “He’s unbelievable how he’s handled all the pressure, and now he’s playing well at the right time. I have to give him a tremendous amount of credit for his demeanor with all that pressure.”
Shortly after the call, Olajuwon returned to Jordan. He was busy there watching the remainder of the Indiana series, which the Heat won 4-2, and the Boston series, which Miami won 4-3.
In the final two games against the Celtics, after the Heat trailed 3-2, James averaged 38.0 points and 13.5 rebounds. That raised his playoff averages to 30.8 points and 9.6 rebounds — and he also hands out an average of 5.1 assists per game.
“He is adding balance to his game because he is more comfortable making post moves,” Olajuwon said. “He’s a more complete player. He is using a lot of the post moves (taught last summer). If you look at LeBron, with his physique and his strength and skills, you know that as he gets later in his career he will appreciate the post more, and it will get much easier for him.”
James sure has appreciated it lately. He used a strong assortment of post moves when the Heat’s season was on the line late in the Boston series.
“I don’t know how you stop him,” Olajuwon said. “I am very impressed with what he has accomplished this season.”
There is still one thing for James to accomplish in his ninth season. That would be winning the championship.
One thing Olajuwon, who didn’t win his first title until his 10th year, preached to James last summer was patience. But Olajuwon wouldn’t be surprised if James’ big moment soon occurs.