Just messing around, getting triple doubles
Category Archives: Houston Rockets
It’s a bit of Captain Obviousness at his most obvious, but after this latest weekend of norm-crushing outputs, it’s still worth acknowledging the statistical rampages on which Russell Westbrook and James Harden are presently embarking.
Harden’s latest salvo was fired across the electorally-commentating Gregg Popovich’s snout to the tune of 25-points, 11-rebounds, and 13-assists which marked back-to-back triple doubles and the third consecutive game of at least 24-points and 13-assists. The last guy to go three straight 24-13s was the Canadian maestro Steve Nash.
Russ responded in kind with an even nervier performance on Sunday (the day of my birth and the day after his own birth so thanks for the bday entertainment) when he unloaded for 41-points, 12-rebounds, and 16-assists while turning the ball over just twice and shooting 67% from the field. That OKC lost to the ever-struggling Magic is just details in the micro, but worrisome in the macro where there’s a collective evidence that disallows celebrating the individual performance in basketball unless there’s a corresponding team success. Aside from the tiresome debates of our day about winning, stats, and the individual in modern basketball, you can be reassured that Russell’s performance was of a most rarefied air. Since 1983-84 which is as far back as Basketball-Reference’s game logs go, only one other player has posted the 40-10-15 triple double and that was three-time NBA champion and ghost chasing coverboy, LeBron James – though Bron needed a full 47 minutes while Russ needed a mere 38. (As an aside, the night Bron executed the 40-10-15, the Cavs lost to Denver in a classic Carmelo-Bron duel where Anthony put up 40 in a game his Nuggets won in overtime. Can we get this on some NBA OnDemand platform? Please? Or is that too much to ask given that we can’t even get a workable version of League Pass?)
We’re a mere 10% into this new season, but inching further away from the small sample size theater and into some world of sustainability. These gaudy stats (32-9-10 with 5 turnovers and a 41% usage for Russ, 30-8-13 with 6 turnovers and 34% usage for Harden) would seem to taper off at some point and yet that assumption is driven by two notions: 1) neither player is physically capable of keeping up these torrid paces, 2) a single player carrying a disproportionate load eventually becomes an impediment to team success.
Physically speaking, Russ has proven his Wolverine-type resiliency over the years as he hadn’t missed a single game through the first five seasons of his career until Patrick Beverley notoriously dove into his leg during the playoffs. This is a man who had his skull dented and continued to play. He appears capable of carrying anything and has the second-highest usage rating in league history at 38.4% in 14-15 which he achieved over 67 games in a season when Kevin Durant was frequently absent with foot injuries.
Harden is a case in stylistic contrast, but has proven himself to be a player with a single-minded emphasis on forward progress. He’s in the midst of a stretch of over 300 games dating back to 2013 where he’s averaging right at 10 free throw attempts-per-game. Despite a bruising style that results in him getting hacked as much or more than any player not named LeBron, his only missed game since the 14-15 season happened in March of 2015 when he was suspended. He’s led the league in minutes played the past two seasons and appears more than physically capable of doing it again year. Iron Man, Iron Beard? So what, get your minutes Harden.
If you’ve seen OKC during one of its 14-minute stretches each game when Russ sits, then you’ve seen a train wreck of a directionless offense flying off the tracks, careening into the fiery depths of basketball hell. They have just one 5-man lineup that doesn’t include Westbrook and has a positive point differential and that lineup has seen just 4-minutes this season. Westbrook leads the league in both box score plus/minus and VORP (value over replacement player) and his on-off difference is a whopping +25.7. Whether you watch or study the data or just close your eyes and imagine, in any scenario, by any measure, OKC needs Russ like the winter needs the spring.
But if you think a +25.7 on-off is nice, Harden’s with the Rockets is +38.6. Like Westbrook, he appears in Houston’s most productive lineups and has become the singular point of propulsion for this potent offensive attack. Maybe the return of the knee-crushing Beverley does something to reduce Harden’s burden, but he’s never been a traditional point guard/playmaker either, so while his return may assuage some of the wear and tear, it’s not likely to limit the role of the bearded one.
By all visual and statistical appearances, these team’s hopes weigh disproportionately on the shoulders of these native Los Angelinos. It may not meet the aesthetic that some have of basketball, but it does create a space for insanity to reign and for us to plumb the depths of man’s ability to mythologize in a most John Henry (or early MJ) way.
Is it sustainable though? Russ is shooting a career-best 35% from three on a career-high 6 three-point-attempts per-game. Harden is averaging over 40% more than his best assists-per-game average. And both guys are rebounding at career-best levels.
Without Durant, OKC is playing the fastest pace of Westbrook’s career which is resulting in around three more possessions-per-game than at any other time in his career. Harden, conversely, is playing slightly slower than last season, but in line with 14-15. The big flip for Harden is that, per BBR, he’s seeing 98% of his minutes at the point guard position versus 1-2% the previous three seasons. He’s surrounded by glorious shooters like Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and even a blossoming Sam Dekker. The variables are in place for both guys to continue churning out offense at gluttonous levels.
Points and assists are so much more in the player’s control than rebounding and while the scoring/assist combinations are the stuff that Oscar Robertson and Nate Archibald can relate to, it’s the rebounding as lead guards that make these players so unique and dangerous. Like LeBron or Magic, both guys can retrieve the defensive board and catch a vulnerable, unset defensive off-balance. As of 11/14, Westbrook leads the league in transition possessions and Harden is tied for 5th. Neither player is exceptionally efficient, which, given the volume of their breaks doesn’t diminish from the overall impact.
All that defensive rebounding-leading-to-breaks aside, Harden maintaining 8-rebounds-per-game or Westbrook at 9 are the most likely stats to fall off.
To put these lines into perspective though, only one player in NBA history has maintained the 30-8-10 line for an entire season. Yep, Mr. Triple-Double himself, Oscar Robertson pulled off the feat three separate seasons: 61-62, 63-64, and 64-65.
Like my presumption of Russ and Harden’s toughest counting stat being rebounding, the Big O’s greatest volatility was on the boards where he dropped from 12.5/game as a 23-year-old to a mere 9-10 in subsequent seasons. What makes the Robertson comparison interesting and what makes Russ and Harden’s outputs so damn ridiculous is the difference in pace between the mid-60s and today. Below I’ve included the same table, but with team pace included at the far right:
The numbers are frighteningly similar despite the massive gaps in both minutes played and pace. None of this should take away from the Big O who averaged a triple-double over his first six seasons in the league which spanned 460 games and a 30-10-10 stat line. But it feels almost like Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown a few years back. There are hallowed numbers that feel out of reach, until the savants of today show up with their beards and fringe fashion statements and make you think the impossible is possible. Dinosaurs can walk again – but can they do it for 82 games? Shit man, you’re asking the wrong guy.
Black Friday, a time for some consumers to pit their deal-stalking prowess against the masses, a post-holiday competitive consuming dessert. For the NBA, a day to get back on track after one of the few league-wide off days. For some, strange cornucopias like chocolate drizzled on turkey manifested themselves on this Friday.
- 50 or more points
- Nine or more turnovers
Two of my favorite storylines this year in the NBA sense of soap opera are Philadelphia and Houston. Black Friday was a chance to see these train wrecks on the same court navigating through their own personal debris in efforts to find some stable safety. But there can only ever be one winner in the NBA and for Houston (they won 116-114 at home knocking to Philly to 0-17 and extending their losing streak to 27 games) it took every particle of James Harden’s basketball being to achieve the victory. Harden hoisted the hodge podge Rockets on his back for the following line:
- Harden, 11/27/15: 50pts on 12-28 from field, 6-12 from 3, 16-20 from the line, 9rebs, 8asts and 9 turnovers
This is right in line with the season he’s having where’s now averaging a career best 30 points/game alongside a career worst five turnovers/game. As I’ve written though, the only time the Rockets seem capable of competing is when James is dominating – efficiency be damned – and his inability to control the ball didn’t prevent a Rockets win. It does put him in some rare company though. As we see below, just two other players in the past 30 seasons have pieced together such uneven lines:
- Allen Iverson, 4/12/97: 50pts on 17-32 shooting, 5-9 from 3, and nine TOs. He was just 21 at the time.
- Hakeem Olajuwon, 4/19/90: 52pts on 21-34 shooting, 18rebs, 3stls, 3blks, 11 TOs while fouling out
Harden wasn’t the only big leaguer to struggle taking care of the ball on this evening. Up north in Oklahoma City, Mountain Dew pitchman Russell Westbrook bing bang bobbled his way into 11 turnovers in just 29 minutes of play (he fouled out) against the Pistons and former teammate Reggie Jackson. His TOs covered a broad swath of ball un-control:
- Dribbled off his foot
- Forced a pass
- Bad pass
- Bad pass
- Stepped out of bounds
- Charge (bad call as Ilyasova pushed into Russ as he drove)
- Dribbled off his foot
- Unforced lost ball on drive
- Charge (tried to draw contact jumping into defender)
- 11 or more turnovers
- 30 minutes or less
Unlike James and his friends Allen and Hakeem, Russ is all alone on this one. Since 1985-86, we’ve never had another guy turn the ball over this much in as limited playing time. It’s entirely possible that someone turned the ball over 12 times in 24 minutes of play, then proceeded to play another 10 minutes of TO-free basketball, but that’s not the criteria.
This is probably Russ’s worst game of the season. On top of the sloppy ball control, he shot 5-14 from the field and fouled out for just the ninth time in nearly 600 career games (playoffs and reg season). His already league-leading turnovers/game went from 4.9 to 5.2 in what’s suddenly become a race to the bottom between him and Harden to see who can turn the ball over most. Like Harden and the Rockets, OKC was still able to win and by double digits despite Russ’s off night. So instead of this being a costly headache, it’s the flipside consequence of a player that exceeds all speed limits and handling guidelines and occasionally goes off the rails as a result.
Not everyone can grace us with the ball protection and calm of a Chris Paul assist-to-turnover ratio. Harden and Westbrook are two of our most dynamic guards, centerpieces of a New NBA with an unstated philosophy that to make the perfect omelet, many, many eggs must be broken. On the same night, pro basketball wunderkind Stephen Curry dropped 41 points while turning the ball over six times and raising his career-worst turnovers/game up to 3.8. It’s like Tyler Durden told us in Fight Club, “even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart.”
James Harden’s 2014-15 season ended with a splat. If you remember, Harden bumbled and stumbled his way into a 2-11 shooting night with a reckless 12 turnovers and a game score of one. Houston was bounced from the playoffs and Harden had the summer to vanquish whatever demons crept through his pores on that late May day.
That was nearly six months ago, plenty of time to recalibrate and find the touch that made Harden’s 2014-15 campaign one of Houstonian bliss. Ten games into the new season though and whatever oddities plagued Harden at the end of the playoffs have hardened into a crust. He’s a career 44% shooter from the field with a 51% mark at eFG (adjusted to account for threes being worth one more point than a normal field goal). Since his days as a 20-point scorer began, he averages just under four turnovers/game. Through ten games of the 2015-16 season, Harden’s efficiency has nosedived to 37% from the field with 4.9 turnovers/game.
Comparing Harden to players other than Harden doesn’t offer a much more favorable view. Since 1985-86, just six other players have managed 210 shot attempts with sub-40% from the field over their first ten games. Except for Kobe’s banged up/shot slinging 2014-15, each player below saw some degree of improvement from their early struggles to their end season stats. (As an aside, what in the hell happened in the Atlantic division in 2002-03 that three players began the season so ineptly inefficient?)
It’s not that the list above is filled with bad company, rather it’s an ugly snapshot in time of otherwise talented players.
Much of Harden’s woes from the field can be traced to a combination of increased fascination with the three-ball and significantly decreased accuracy from that spot. His current approach to the three is enough to make Antoine Walker un-shimmy. After putting up between six to seven threes/game over the past three seasons, he’s jacking nearly ten/game in 2015. For context, prior to this season, no player in league history had ever averaged nine three-point attempts/game. Stephen Curry’s shooting 11.5/game this year, but he’s also making a whopping 45% of them. By contrast, Harden’s ten attempts/game are coming with a 24% efficiency. There’s no reason to suspect that his accuracy won’t creep back up to the 36-37% rate he’s maintained his entire career, but it’s also hard to envision him maintaining the current volume.
While Houston has plenty of issues that have contributed to a 4-6 record with a pair of three-game losing streaks (most notably a defense giving up 107.8ppg [27th out of 30th] with a DRtg of 108.9 [29th out of 30]), the chart below highlights the Rockets early-season dependence on Harden’s offensive efficiency for success. In wins, he has an eFG% of nearly 54 while in losses that number drops to under 32%. As a reminder, his career average is 51%.
There’s such a paradoxical element to Harden’s young 2015-16. He’s averaging a career-high in points at 28.4ppg bolstered by nearly 12 free throw attempts/night while sinking 86% of those attempts, but that’s countered by a career-low in ORtg (estimate of points created per 100 possessions). He’s getting more rebounds than at any point in his career, but that’s driven by him seeing more minutes than ever at small forward as Houston’s been forced to go small due to injuries. And CBS Sports’ Matt Moore pointed out that even those numbers come with caveats:
The NBA’s SportVU data has Harden logged for the second-most defensive rebound chances on the team, at 10.8 per game. He’s grabbing just 5.5, with only 1.4 contested. That is a horrendous rate, which is fine if he’s not being asked to do that, but with the Rockets going small, the guards have to rebound, and they’re not.
Speaking of said injuries, through ten games, Houston’s dilly dallied with five different starting lineups to accommodate the health of Dwight Howard and dings to Terrence Jones. Reserve guard Patrick Beverley has spent the season banged up and the assimilation of Ty Lawson appears to be confounding the entire populace of Houston – Lawson’s to-date performance as a Rocket makes Harden’s struggles feel like sunbeams and smart vacation. There’s a continuity issue here reflected in their streaky play (three-game losing streak followed by four straight wins then another three-game losing streak) and need for total domination by Harden to win. In wins he’s averaging 38ppg with a near-38% usage rate while losses 22ppg and 32% usage and a despicable 15% from three on 53 attempts.
We have three-plus seasons of video and statistical evidence that defines a true Harden identity. While he’s been historically bad over ten games, history tells us he’ll progress to the mean at some point and we’ve already seen it happen in a few Houston games this season. The question for coach Kevin McHale and Harden are more of a when than an if. But like Alexander’s mother tells him in the book which this post takes its name from: “Some games are like that. Even in Australia.”
Once upon a time in the pre-presidential Obama days of the NBA, young Mr. Michael Jordan showed up for a game in Indianapolis against the Pacers and their funny two-guard, Reggie Miller. Jordan’s Bulls lost by four points, but it was due in no part to Jordan who crapped all over the Pacers for a sizzling 47 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and two blocks while shooting 57% from the field and 13-14 from the line. Egads!
Of course Michael Jordan, he of “commerce over conscience” infamy, is the modern-day NBA (defined as 1985-86 which is the first season basketball-reference offers certain box score stats) pioneer of the 43-13 club; aka 43-points and 13-assists, a truly dominant offensive game mixed of equal parts attack and distribution, but all attack.
So how’d we arrive here? James Harden delivered us to this moment on a Friday night in Sacramento in November with his vintage Hardenesque performance: 43 points on 23 shots with 16 FTAs and 13 assists. Harden was a rock or ogre or something irrepressible. And it was kind of fitting that in a league where all two guards are measured by their ability or inability to emulate his Airness, that the two-guard with the most un-MJish game would be the latest in a short line of NBA greats to repeat his feat from 1989.
Here’s the criteria:
- 43 points or more
- 13 assists or more
- Michael Jordan, 26-years-old in 1989: 47pts, 11rebs, 13asts, 4stls
- Larry Bird, 33 in 1990: 43pts, 8rebs, 13asts
- Kenny Anderson, 23 in 1994: 45pts, 8rebs, 14asts, 4stls, 20-23 from FT
- Antoine Walker, 24 in 2001: 47pts, 5rebs, 13asts, 4stls, 9-14 from 3
- Tracy McGrady, 23 in 2003: 46pts, 10rebs, 13asts, 2blks
- Allen Iverson, 31 in 2007: 44pts on 16-22 shooting, 15asts
- Gilbert Arenas, 27 in 2009: 45pts, 13asts
- LeBron James, 25 in 2010: 43pts, 13rebs, 15asts, 4blks, 1-9 from 3
- James Harden, 26 in 2015: 43pts, 13asts, 7 TOs
It’s an illustriously exclusive crowd Harden’s just joined, but fitting given the versatility of his game. Long a playmaker and dynamic scorer, the Beard is one of just 12 players in league history to average 27ppg and 7apg over the course of a single season. Where our eyelashes barely bat at the inclusion of MJ, Bird or LeBron, Kenny Anderson and Antoine Walker are more surprising. Anderson’s game was necessitated by an injury to Derrick Coleman while Walker’s was an outmatched team on the road where he caught fire.
Context for games like these matters. In Harden’s case, it was his sixth game of the year, the first three of which had all resulted in 20-point losses with last season’s MVP runner-up shooting a combined 12-54 (22%) from the field and 3-32 (9%) from three. His team has been ravaged by early injuries and the challenge of integrating speedy playmaker Ty Lawson into the attack. On this Friday night, there was no Dwight Howard, no Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, or Patrick Beverley. So against an undermanned (no DeMarcus Cousins) Kings team, Harden seized the reigns and torched the Kings. It was without peer as his best game of the new season with the Rockets largest margin of victory and his own highest usage and ORtg.
Which takes us to the final noteworthy relationship of the 43-13 club; the relationship between usage and Ortg. The 43-13 club means you’re accounting for no less than 60 of your team’s points. A player becomes the catalyzing engine driving the offensive attack from multiple planes much to the defense’s helplessness. I expected higher usage rates which isn’t to say the rates aren’t high, but below we see a consistent relationship: mid-30s usage, mid-130s Ortg – with a couple of truly unique outliers. Allen Iverson’s 44 and 15 on 16-22 shooting stands out as a model of harnessed efficiency which, given his career-long struggles with efficiency becomes the greatest outlier and a likely topic for a future edition.
Last week I wrote a brief piece on Manu Ginobili’s 15 assists in 23 minutes of play. And previous explorations of statistical oddities have included Al Jefferson playing +50 minutes and attempting zero free throws, Isaiah Thomas scoring 27 points in under 16 minutes and Rajon Rondo’s 3×15 triple double. Through the research of these anomalies, I always learn a little something like Bob Cousy never shot over 40% from the field for his entire career (it was a Jamal Crawford stat that led me there). Last night I was digging through box scores looking for stories I had missed during the evening and despite Deron Williams’s immaculate night from three (11-16 from deep) and Kobe’s much-needed heroics, the oddball line of the night went to the University of Iowa’s own Reggie Evans who got to the line 16 times and grabbed 24 rebounds.
That line put him in the company of some of league’s best and most dominant big men of the past 30 years:
It’s no surprise to see Shaq, Dwight, Hakeem or Charles Barkley on this list. Lorenzen Wright and Joe Barry Carroll are more of the Reggie Evans variety, but Wright played 44 minutes and Carroll (aka Joe Barely Cares) played 55 minutes so it’s a bit more of a volume play. Evans played just 32 minutes (the only guy on the list under 40 minutes) and is also the oldest player at nearly 33 years. He grabbed just under 35% of the total possible rebounds while he was on the court. By comparison, Evans leads the league in this stat at 24.9%.
This is where these little weekend posts typically end. I’ll throw a youtube clip on the end of it and put it out into the world for consumption, but not this time. If you look back up at the table above and find #4 on the list: Hakeem Olajuwon’s 32-point, 25-rebound, 20-free throw attempt, 10-block performance against a hapless Magic squad on a chilly Sunday night back in December of 1989. I was nine years old at the time and most likely completely oblivious to The Dream’s ridiculous performance what with my age and the fact that Christmas was a week away.
This game sent me on a bit of search today; a search to have some context and understanding around Olajuwon’s game. The quest took me from the Houston Chronicle’s archives to the Orlando Sentinel’s archives to USA Today’s archives, then the SI Vault, onto reviews of newspaper database sites and finally to what felt like the grail of news of resources: NewsLibrary.com which has an easy-to-use/search database of hundreds of millions of articles and stories. Throughout this search, I was continually appalled by the lack of quality, the lack of results and terrible usability on some of the aforementioned sites. Most notably, the Houston Chronicle and USA Today have truly pathetic archive sections that either don’t work as intended or are impossible to find.
Media critiques aside, what Olajuwon accomplished in Orlando that night hasn’t been done by another player in the league in the 28 years covered by Basketball-reference’s box score database. In digging through the stories and recaps of the game, it’s plain to see the Magic were overmatched from the get go. This was Orlando’s inaugural season in the league and their roster reflected it with a group of pro basketball rejects; unwanted and unloved by the rest of the league’s General Managers. The team featured Scott Skiles, rookie Nick Anderson, Reggie Theus and other guys you likely haven’t heard of unless you’re around my age (32) or older. On the night Olajuwon crushed them, they started Mark Acres at center and Sidney Green at power forward. Missing from the lineup was their scoring leader and rugged PF, Terry Catledge. So it was Acres, Green and rotation guy Jeff Turner (owner of a 6ppg career scoring average). To compare the post mismatch in today’s terms, it’d be like sending Mark Madsen, Shelden Williams and Reggie Evans to war against well … no one in today’s game compares to the 1989 Olajuwon, so just imagine those three guys I just mentioned trying to stop the Dream.
I don’t mean to put down Turner, Acres and Green, but rather to show how outmatched the Magic were. The Orlando Sentinel’s write-up (written by Barry Cooper) praised the bench group (which Turner was a part of) for their hustle while spelling out the facts simply: “…Acres played hard against him (Olajuwon), but most of the rebounds Olajuwon grabbed were nearly uncontested.” As for Green who started in place of the ailing Catledge, “perhaps the Magic’s best post-up defender, didn’t take a shot and had only two rebounds in 10 minutes.”
Here’s the box score where we see Olajuwon had a ridiculous D-Rating of 72 for the game. It was his second triple double of the season and the fifth of his career. The 25 rebounds tied his career-high at that point and the 20 free throw attempts set a new career-high. In calling out that Olajuwon hit just 12 of his 20 FTAs, Houston Chronicle writer Eddie Sefko interestingly wrote “But for a change, not everybody jumped on Olajuwon’s back.” Given that he averaged over 24 points while leading the league in rebounding at 14rpg and blocks at 4.6bpg, played 39mpg while appearing in all 82 Rockets games; it’s intriguing that Sefko mentions this and reminds me of the Olajuwon section in Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball where he references some of the less desirable traits of Olajuwon’s. While Sefko’s message is partly referring to his poor free throw shooting, you can piece together something of a love/hate relationship that existed between Houston fans and Olajuwon during this period.
The Chronicle’s recap also includes a quote from Orlando coach Matt Guokos that was left out of the Sentinel’s home town recap: “The discouraging aspect of going to the basket and getting shot after shot blocked kind of got to us.” Imagine the psychological impact of Olajuwon patrolling the paint that night. Your leading post scorer is out for the game, you’re an expansion team that was thrown together with spare parts. It’s almost Christmas and the excitement of being part of a new franchise has worn away and the reality that you’re playing against the best center in the league is wholly evident. You try to get in the paint for high percentage shots, but every time you turn a corner or beat a defender, there’s Olajuwon, crouched in his defensive position, but he’s a predator, he’s the hunter. He waits and times his jumps perfectly. Sure, he blocks 10 of your shots, but how many does he alter? How many times do you second guess penetrating? And at the end your coach finally admits what you and your exhausted teammates had been feeling all night long: It’s discouraging. He was just too good.
Olajuwon himself acknowledged the mismatch: “In a game like this, they really don’t have a legitimate center in the middle, so we have to take advantage of that.”
The Rockets underachieved in this game and it led to Olajuwon playing big minutes (43) out necessity more than anything else. Despite winning by 15, Houston was up just one point heading into the fourth quarter. By that point, the Magic were done driving into the paint and settled for jumpers which Olajuwon presumably tracked down on his way to the 25 boards. It was the perfect setting for Akeem to have a big game and he took full advantage.
My journey into the rabbit hole of box scores and recaps today is just an extension of the box score readings I used to do when I was a kid. I’d find the Sports section in the Des Moines Register, flip to the back to see the box scores and look for the explosions, the inconsistencies, the triple doubles, the 50-point outbursts and find some sense of satisfaction in the deviations. So many years later and years removed from reading box scores and getting dark ink smudges on my fingertips and thumbs, I’m still intrigued by the abnormal accomplishment and appreciate it for being one of the few things in sports that’s still so unpredictable; just like it’s unpredictable that a Reggie Evans 24-rebound, 15-free throw attempt on a Friday night in March in 2013 would lead me to contemplating Akeem Olajuwon’s relationship with Houston fans in the winter of 1989.