NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal is one of the most physically dominant big men in history. However, he still faced some tough matchups at the center position. In an interview during his rookie season in 1992, O'Neal was asked by Ernie Johnson which player was his toughest matchup. He named two players — Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Shaquille O'Neal said:
“Probably one of the two best centers in the league. That’s uh, Hakeem and Patrick. I haven’t played against David yet, but Hakeem was real tough and Patrick was real tough.”
It’s worth noting just how dominant O'Neal was in his first NBA season for the Orlando Magic. He averaged 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game in 81 games in his rookie season. He not only won the Rookie of the Year, but was also selected as an All-Star. So for O'Neal to name a player that gave him a hard time is a great honor, even early on in his career.
Hakeem Olajuwon was one of the most gifted low post big men in the late '80s and early '90s. During Shaquille O'Neal’s rookie season, Olajuwon averaged 26.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per game in 82 games. He was selected to play in his eighth All-Star game that season and went on to win his first Defensive Player of the Year award.
O'Neal and Olajuwon split their season series 1-1 in the 1992-1993 season. O'Neal eventually finished his career with a 14-6 record vs Olajuwon. However, he lost to Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets 4-0 in the 1995 NBA Finals.
Patrick Ewing was another physically imposing seven-footer in the late '80s. During O'Neal’s rookie season, Ewing averaged 24.2 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in 81 games. He was selected to play in his seventh All-Star game that season.
O'Neal and Ewing split their season series 2-2 in the 1992-1993. He finished his career with a 15-11 record vs Ewing. Ewing and O’Neal never faced each other in the NBA playoffs.
Shaquille O'Neal and other players who made the NBA All-Star game as a rookie
Players who make the All-Star game as rookies almost always go on to have Hall of Fame careers. Besides Shaquille O'Neal, others who accomplished this feat are Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Isiah Thomas, and Tim Duncan.
Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing also made the All-Star game as rookies.
However, this accomplishment has become less common these days. The last player to make the All-Star team as a rookie was Blake Griffin back in 2011. Prior to Griffin, it was Yao Ming in 2003.