Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon has led his team to two straight NBA championships and won an NBA Most Valuable Player award the past two seasons. Michael Jordan, before his brief retirement, had won three straight NBA titles and has picked up three MVP awards over his career.
So, has Olajuwon replaced Jordan as the league's best player?
David Moore, who covers the league for the Dallas Morning News, recently polled some NBA insiders on their choice between Jordan and Olajuwon and here is a brief sample of opinions:
* Los Angeles Clippers coach Bill Fitch: "Olajuwon has done it lately. The only question is whether Michael can come all the way back. If you crown the king now, it would have to be Olajuwon."
* Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl: "When you focus on one player, Jordan probably has more ability to dominate a game in more areas than Hakeem."
* Orlando Magic coach Brian Hill: "I think the fact the Rockets have won the last two championships and Hakeem has been an MVP and a premier player, I'd have to go with him right now until someone else does it."
* Orlando guard Anfernee Hardaway: "Michael is the best. On any given night, he can score 50. If anyone wants to be the best, they have to go through Michael."
Had the question been expanded beyond Olajuwon and Jordan, Hardaway would have surely picked up some votes. Hardaway, the first NBA player of the week, is averaging 28.4 points and has helped lead the Magic to a 9-2 record without Shaquille O'Neal (broken right thumb) in the lineup. O'Neal could return to Orlando two weeks before Christmas.
Horry heats up
When the Houston Rockets played on the road against the Toronto Raptors just over a week ago, Robert Horry had not hit a field goal all game until nailing a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the the defending champions a three-point win. Since then, Horry just may be the hottest player in basketball.
The next night, Nov. 16 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Horry scored a career-high 40 points, including eight three-pointers. The next two games: 22 points against Denver, and 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds against the Boston Celtics. Horry, forced to play power forward for the Rockets last season after the team traded Otis Thorpe, is re-defining how the position is played.
Horry was almost run out of Houston two years ago when coach Rudy Tomjanovich said he didn't shoot the ball enough. By hitting five of eight three-pointers in his 26-point game against Philadelphia on Wednesday, Horry was leading the league in three-point accuracy going into last night's game against the Indiana Pacers.
"The last two years, I got my [championship] rings, but I'm really just finding my niche in this league," Horry said. "I'm learning what to do and when to do it out there. A couple of years ago, I was reluctant to shoot the ball. But when I'm open these days, I take it."
That's pleasant for Tomjanovich, who may be coaching three All-Stars -- Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Horry -- this season.
"You really have to be impressed with the way the guy has come out and taken charge," Tomjanovich said.
Around the league
The Charlotte Hornets, hurt by the trade of Alonzo Mourning, are finally getting some good news. Small forward Scott Burrell, who missed the start of the season as he recovered from a torn Achilles' tendon, was activated on Wednesday and set to move to the shooting guard spot (with Glen Rice moving to small forward). Also, point guard Muggsy Bogues (knee surgery) has started working out and could return by early December. . . . Charlotte guard Kendall Gill had his first career triple double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) on Saturday against San Antonio. . . . Chicago forward Dennis Rodman (pulled left calf) is on the team's current seven-game, 12-day road trip, and could come off the injured list by the end of the trip. "I'm working out every day about four to five hours," Rodman said. . . . Denver Nuggets back-up center Elmore Spencer, acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers, played just three minutes in his first 10 games behind Dikembe Mutombo and doesn't care. It may have something to do with his $1.2 million salary. "Whether I play or not, it really doesn't bother me," Spencer said. "It's not my approach to worry about playing time." . . . . Houston, 9-1 going into last night's game against Indiana, has a combined 33-4 record over the last three Novembers. The Rockets were 14-0 in 1993, and 10-3 in 1994. . . . The Los Angeles Clippers (7-5) are two months ahead of schedule; they didn't win their seventh game last season until Jan. 25.
(Cyber) Quote of the Week
From Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley, talking about his team while spending an hour as a guest on the on-line service of the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette:
"The way I look at it, we've got two little problems. One, we can't score. Two, we can't stop anybody from scoring. Other than that, we're not bad."