Matthew Stafford Reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon
Thinking about athletes who made it big after age 30
So this is a less than obvious comparison to be sure, prompted by Bomani Jones tweeting about the recently playoff-eliminated LA Rams quarterback.
Without making a judgment on Matt Stafford’s quality overall, he reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon in that, so much of his legacy is defined after age 30. It’s historically overlooked that Olajuwon was 31 years old when he won the first of two championships, after Michael Jordan’s first retirement. Between that point and when he made the 1986 Finals as a second year player, Dream’s career was somewhat checkered. He was obviously great, yes, but known to be a bit of a malcontent, somewhat high maintenance, prone to making demands. And in that era, it was especially difficult to get media attention if you weren’t competing for championships and hailed from a non media hub market.
In the way that Stafford’s been “your favorite quarterback’s favorite quarterback,” I’m sure early 1990s Hakeem had a special status among true basketball aficionados, but that NBA era was defined by Michael Jordan’s battles. Much of Olajuwon’s greatness would have been lost from the cultural consciousness if not for Jordan’s exit. Similarly, I’m not sure we’d appreciate Stafford as much if not for a) His getting traded from the Detroit Lions to the LA Rams and b) Jaquiski Tartt dropping the easiest of interception opportunities.
Both those events led to the circumstance of Stafford winning a Super Bowl at age 34 and finally getting mainstream plaudits as a truly great player. This season, Stafford built on that legacy. Few expected much of the young Rams, so their playoff run further validated their quarterback’s recently boosted reputation.
Both Olajuwon and Stafford are aesthetic wonders and, I’d argue, deserved the attention they got after age 30. I’m not highlighting their late bloomer status to myth bust their success but instead to ask the question: Are there any other athletes who’ve seen as much or more of a boost in legacy for work done after age 30? Or is it just Hakeem and Matt? I’ll hang up and listen.
House of Strauss is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.