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NBA title fitting cap to Dream's dream season


HOUSTON -- For Hakeem Olajuwon, there was little time to savor the Houston Rockets' first NBA title. He was up before the crack of dawn yesterday, making the rounds of the morning talk shows. And then there was the business of accepting his NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award trophy.

"It's been a dream season," Olajuwon said yesterday.

The dream season for "The Dream" was capped on Wednesday with the NBA crown, a seventh game 90-84 win over the New York Knicks. It was the first championship in franchise history and the first major title for the city of Houston.

Rockets fans celebrated by packing the Astrodome yesterday after The Summit proved too small for the massive show of affection for Olajuwon and his fellow champions.

Olajuwon became just the sixth person to win both the regular-season and NBA Finals MVP awards, joining Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The 7-foot center from Nigeria also won the league's Defensive Player of the Year Award this season.

"In my era, there have been only two players who have made everyone around them better," Rockets guard Kenny Smith said. "Michael Jordan [at North Carolina] and Hakeem."

The 1993-94 Finals was billed as a classic battle of the centers, pitting Olajuwon against Patrick Ewing. Both centers had their moments, but Olajuwon had more of them.

He averaged 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.9 blocks. He was the leading scoring in all seven games, and in Game 7 had 25 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.

Ewing ended the series averaging 18.8 points, 12.4 rebounds and blocked 30 shots -- an NBA Finals record. But he averaged 1.7 assists, and shot only 33.1 percent in seven games.

"I have a lot of respect for Hakeem," a dejected Ewing said. "He is a hard worker, like myself, and he is a great player."

While Houston got an MVP performance from its most senior Rocket (10 years), it also got a tremendous lift from its most recent addition -- rookie point guard Sam Cassell. Passed over in last year's NBA draft until the Rockets made him the 24th pick in the first round, Cassell displayed a tremendous amount of poise and confidence during the playoffs.

And the former Dunbar star is the reason the Rockets even got to a seventh game. If Cassell doesn't hit the big three-pointer at the end of Game 3 at Madison Square Garden, the Rockets don't take a 2-1 advantage in the series and perhaps lose in five games.

"I don't feel like a rookie now. I've played 105 games," Cassell said. "My teammates had a lot of confidence in me this season. I went out and did what I had to do."

For most of the series the New York guards got the better of Houston's, but on Wednesday the Rockets' trio of Cassell, Vernon Maxwell and Smith hit 14 of 24 shots. New York's John Starks had a horrendous game, missing 16 of 18 shots, including all 11 of his three-point tries.

"We just wanted to show the New York guards that we are capable guards," Cassell said. "And that we can go out and have a big night on any night."

But night in and night out there was no performance as big as Olajuwon's, the former soccer player who has worked hard to become the best center in the NBA. And Wednesday night that work ethic paid off in his first championship.

"This has been a great year for us," Olajuwon said. "It's really exciting to have a championship here in Houston."

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