SHAQUILLE O’Neal may have had the size and strength to overpower his defenders, but former NBA star Sam Perkins singled out Hakeem Olajuwon as the most difficult player to guard during his colorful 18-year career.
Perkins said Olajuwon’s graceful moves to the basket made him tough to guard down low.
“The guy I’d say guard consistently, it’s Hakeem. But I also look forward at guarding him, stressing him out (on defense) which he wasn’t accustomed to, but it was gratifying to see and challenge him all the time,” Perkins told a small size of sportswriters during Tuesday’s press conference at the Mall of Asia Arena for his four-day visit here.
A teammate of NBA greats Michael Jordan and James Worthy at North Carolina, the 6-foot-9 Perkins arrived in the country Monday night to help promote the NBA Global Games Philippines 2013 that will feature the Houston Rockets against the Indiana Pacers on October 10.
Perkins, nicknamed `Big Smooth’, had an opportunity to guard O’Neal one-on-one during the 2000 NBA Finals when the Pacers battled the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Shaq was totally different from Olajuwon because Hakeem can do multiple things. But Shaq just leaned on his opponent, back in and do his thing,” recalled the left-handed former NBA big man.
In defending O’Neal, Perkins said he had to wrap an ice pack on his left arm because the Lakers star center leaned on him heavily before going for his patented spin moves to the basket.
“I had to ice my arm as if I threw a hundred (baseball) pitches in a game,” said Perkins, laughing. “But actually, I had to make sure my arm stayed lose because he was difficult to guard, too, though I still give it to someone who is more dimensional.”
Perkins played in his first-ever NBA Finals in 1991 with Magic Johnson, Worthy, and the Lakers, although the team lost to Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, 4-1.
The sweet-shooting Perkins returned to the NBA Finals in 1996 with Seattle, but again failed to win a title as Jordan and the Bulls defeated the Sonics, 4-2, in a memorable season that saw Chicago finished with the best regular season record in league history at 72-10.
Perkins’ third and last NBA Finals stint came in 2000 against the Lakers. O’Neal and a young Kobe Bryant ended LA’s 12-year title drought by beating the Pacers, 4-2.
In all those three failed NBA title bids, Perkins said his experience of playing for the Sonics was the most memorable because the team back then had no legitimate star to lean on.
“The most memorable one was probably say Seattle because we didn’t have a Magic (Johnson, while he played for the Lakers) and we didn’t have a Reggie Miller (his teammate at the Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals).
“But we had a team of guys, Gary Payton, Shawn (Kemp), Hersey (Hawkins), Kendall Gill and Vincent Askew. We had a bunch of players who just made it (to the Finals). We were the surprise team in the West. We had lost to Denver in 1994 but we want to come back strong,” he added.