Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NBA Pivots Could Be Centers of Attention

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NBA Pivots Could Be Centers of Attention

Article excerpt

WITHOUT Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, or Magic Johnson around to grace next spring's National Basketball Association playoffs, what would make a good story line? Perhaps a clash of the game's two premier centers. We're not talking about Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning. Their time is coming. Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon and New York's Patrick Ewing are the more seasoned contemporaries referred to.

Though both entered the league in the mid-1980s, only Olajuwon has appeared in the NBA Finals - once, in 1986, in a loss to the Boston Celtics. In leading the Rockets to 16 wins in their first 17 games this season, the Nigerian native has already been cast as a leading Most Valuable Player candidate. If he earns the award, he would be the NBA's first foreign-born MVP, as would Ewing if he won instead. Patrick Aloysius Ewing was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but his family moved to Boston when he was 12. Olajuwon became an American citizen in April.

A soccer player in his native Nigeria, Olajuown didn't take up basketball seriously until he arrived at the University of Houston, where as a sophomore he played on the Cougar squad that reached the national semifinals. A Georgetown squad led by Ewing, a heralded freshman, also made the Final Four. Two years later, in the 1984 title game, their squads met, with Georgetown winning its only national crown. Olajuwon failed to win a college championship in his three varsity seasons, although Houston came very close in 1983, when North Carolina State converted a rebounded "air ball" into a last-second, game-winning basket in an upset of Houston's "Phi Slama Jama" contingent.

Ewing also experienced Final Four frustrations. As a freshman, Georgetown lost a thrilling championship game to North Carolina, a defeat sealed by Michael Jordan's game-winning basket and a tragic Hoya turnover in the last minute. Four years later, Villanova recorded one of the most stunning upsets in tournament history by defeating Georgetown, 66-64.

Olajuwon earned a clear "decision" in his first of two head-to-head encounters with Ewing this season. Though the Rocket center had enjoyed a a small statistical advantage over Ewing in 14 previous professional meetings, Hakeem outscored Patrick 37 to 12 last Thursday in New York, as the Rockets extended their season-opening victory streak to a record-tying 15 games. …

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