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Finals Over, Let The Tributes Begin

Thu., June 15, 1995

May this basketball championship bring this scattered metropolis whatever the first one didn’t, and to hear the locals whine, winning one was worth nothing but scorn and suspicion.

It was never enough to just share an NBA title with one another, with the guy down the bayou, what Houston demanded was national applause.

Nothing less than universal congratulations will do this time, as if having the first word spoken on the moon be “Houston” is not an honor for the ages.

Silly, but these are the Houston Rockets and not the Houston rocket scientists. And now that they have routed Orlando four straight in the NBA Finals, let the tributes begin.

Hakeem Olajuwon must be declared the best center of all time, not withstanding that he may not even be the best center in the building. I would take Bill Walton on good knees over Olajuwon.

More than that, Olajuwon must be made richer, be given all those commercial endorsements he has lacked, be like Mike, be like Shaq, be like Jason Kidd, even. You know, a cartoon.

Olajuwon’s Game 4 performance alone is worth that, shaming O’Neal, finishing the finest playoff run of any player not named Jordan.

It is beginning. Olajuwon signed a deal to front Uncle Ben’s rice, because he said, in a sworn statement, he ate it all the time growing up in Nigeria. Maybe they didn’t get Wheaties there.

Commerce has little to do with real worth. We don’t need to look much further than Mike Ditka to see that. Reality is that no matter how good a fellow or great a player Olajuwon is, the American marketplace has never really embraced foreign-born athletes with thick accents, save your odd female figure skater every now and then.

Surely, the world is eager to share the civic redemption of Clyde Drexler, the once and prodigal failure who could not win a college championship with Hakeem and his Phi Slamma Jamma hometown buddies in two tries nor twice as a pro for Portland.

This is all very nice, but if coming home is reason for strangers to stand around and cheer, none of us would ever get out of the airport.

Most impressive has to be the way the Rockets have gone about this, surviving five games when they could have been eliminated, winning seven straight on the road, whipping in succession the teams with the best records in basketball. Certainly, this will warm the hearts of cruel or indifferent outsiders.

“If we don’t get credit this year,” said coach Rudy Tomjanovich, “well, no one has ever done this before. No one ever came from the sixth spot. No one’s ever won as many road games, all those things.”

“This is history,” said Olajuwon.

History was made at the Alamo. And at the Texas Medical Center up the street by Drs. Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey. And by whichever wizard flavored the first fajita.

“The way it is today,” said forward Robert Horry, “if you don’t win it twice, you’re nobody.”

Houston should always remember that Detroit won this thing twice in succession without improving anyone’s opinion of the place.

And what of poor Orlando?

Orlando kept getting younger and younger until by Game 4 you expected them to be sucking their thumbs.

The team that didn’t need to suffer, that would take its place at the top because everyone agreed it should, found itself playing just not to be humiliated. It did not work.

Said coach Brian Hill before the playoffs started, “We’re going to be judged - and we know we’re going to be judged - solely on what we do in the postseason. That’s the attitude that the media has created and unfortunately that’s what we have to live with.”

While no one in the media was missing free throws and open jumpers, nor writing as listlessly as Orlando played, Hill got it right.

And what the media will do with Orlando is no worse than it ever did to the Buffalo Bills. Or to Bill Buckner.



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