SPRINGFIELD, Mass. Hakeem Olajuwon was asked Friday about the friendly rivalry he and Patrick Ewing shared during their careers as two of the greatest centers in basketball history.
"Who said it was friendly?" Olajuwon replied.
The 7-footers, who met for an NCAA title in 1984 and an NBA championship 10 years later, are both being enshrined in the Hall of Fame, part of a star-studded class that includes Adrian Dantley, former NBA coach Pat Riley, broadcaster Dick Vitale, Detroit Pistons and Shock owner Bill Davidson, and former Immaculata University coach Cathy Rush.
Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas beat Olajuwon and the Houston Cougars in that NCAA championship game. But Olajuwon earned two NBA rings in Houston, the first after beating Ewing's New York Knicks in a classic seven-game series in 1994.
"I could not picture my career without Patrick," Olajuwon said while speaking to reporters hours before the induction ceremony. "We are so intertwined from college. We play alike in so many ways. We are blocking shots, steals, intimidation. When Patrick is at the other end of the floor, you know you are playing against your toughest opponent."
Ewing, who was 12 when he came to the U.S. from Jamaica, said he felt a kinship with Olajuwon, who grew up playing team handball in Nigeria. Both, he said, found their identity while playing basketball in their new country.
"When I played against Hakeem, I definitely wanted to be at my best," Ewing said. "I think he feels the same way. We both know what each other brings to the table intensity, energy, effort. You would have to put out 110 percent to play against each other."
Olajuwon led the Houston Cougars to three Final Fours in college. During his NBA career he scored almost 27,000 points, grabbed 13,747 rebounds and blocked 3,830 shots.
Ewing also went to three Final Fours. He scored just under 25,000 points and pulled down 11,607 rebounds in the NBA, becoming the New York Knicks' career leader in points, rebounds, blocked shots and steals. He earned two Olympic gold medals, but never got an NBA title.
"That still bothers me," said Riley, who coached Ewing's 1994 Knicks team.
Riley, after winning championships as a player and assistant, won five more as a coach four with the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, and another with the Miami Heat in 2006. It took that final title, Riley said, to convince a lot of people that he really was a good coach.
"I truly believe that what happened in Miami validated what probably a lot of people felt that I might not be able to do, and that what I did in New York and what I did in L.A. maybe was because there was just a lot of good players," said Riley, now president of the Heat.
Dantley, who made it in after being a finalist for the Hall of Fame six other times, also spoke of validation Friday. He played for seven NBA teams during his 15-year career, scoring over 23,000 points. But he never felt that he got the respect he deserved.
"Ever since I've been in high school, I've dominated at every level, but my critics always had something to say about me," Dantley said. "All those other guys, they were supposed to get in, they were talented. But I got in through hard work."
Rush was 149-15 in her seven years as a head coach. She led Immaculata to three consecutive national championships in the 1970s, and is considered a pioneer in women's sports.
"Young girls and young women now have people to look up to, idols that are also in team sports as well as individual sports," she said.
Davidson, whose teams have won three NBA titles and two in the WNBA, enters the Hall of Fame as a contributor. He played a key role in structuring the NBA's salary cap and free agency systems. Davidson was also among the first owners to put NBA teams on private planes and luxury boxes closer to the court in arenas.
Vitale, who gave Olajuwon his nickname "the Dream," also will go in as a contributor. The ESPN color analyst has spent 30 years becoming the voice of college basketball extolling the virtues of "PTPers (Prime Time Players), screaming "Awesome baby!" and being passed overhead through student sections across the country.
His biggest lament Friday was the time limit Hall of Fame officials gave him for his acceptance speech.
"I cannot say hello in 5 minutes," Vitale said.