The Knicks had just been eliminated by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, and Woodson wondered if Olajuwon could help Amar’e Stoudemire with his footwork and low-post moves. When the Knicks did retain Woodson — removing his interim title — and gave him a contract extension, he called Olajuwon again. This time, Woodson was in Houston, ready to execute his plan with Olajuwon.
“I feel so honored that he asked me to help,” Olajuwon said.
Since retiring in 2002, Olajuwon has developed some of the N.B.A.’s best players. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and LeBron James have all flourished under Olajuwon’s tutelage. The lessons have always taken place at Olajuwon’s ranch in Katy, Tex.
Now, for the first time since being available to players during the summer, Olajuwon will travel to a team’s facility to show players his moves. This week, Olajuwon will be in Greenburgh, N.Y., with several Knicks players, including , Tyson Chandler and Stoudemire. He will also be alongside Woodson, the man who persuaded him to make the trip.
Having worked with Stoudemire for more than two weeks this summer, Olajuwon is clearly fully invested in assisting Woodson, and ultimately the Knicks, the team he beat in the N.B.A. finals with the Houston Rockets in 1994.
“It was something I wanted to do for Mike,” Olajuwon said. “It’s always a joy for me to work with current players, especially for guys that you know you can help their careers.”
Woodson and Olajuwon were teammates with the Rockets from 1988 to 1990. Woodson, a veteran at the time, helped the younger Olajuwon mature. Even then, Olajuwon could tell Woodson was interested in coaching once his playing career was over. The two formed a bond, and Olajuwon has watched Woodson become a respected coach in the league.
“Mike showed a flash toward the last part of the season of what he can do,” Olajuwon said, referring to the Knicks’ 18-6 record after Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni in March. “You can tell he is comfortable making the right move to succeed.”
No one in the league will disagree with Woodson’s efforts to develop team chemistry. Earlier this week, Olajuwon said Anthony and Stoudemire would need to complement each other for the Knicks to win. He also said Chandler could be more dominant in the post with more back-to-the-basket moves.
Olajuwon will have the players focus on repetition in their post moves during the pre-training camp workouts.
“I think the team is expecting a lot of itself,” Olajuwon said. “They know they have to accomplish a lot this season.”
At first, Woodson wanted Olajuwon to come to New York during the early part of the off-season to help his three primary frontcourt players. That wasn’t possible, though, once Anthony and Chandler began training with the United States national team in preparation for the Olympics.
But Woodson, in a move that impressed Olajuwon, traveled to Katy in early August to watch Stoudemire’s first few training sessions.
Over dinner, Woodson told Olajuwon about his plans for the season and how he wanted the Knicks’ offense to focus on getting the ball inside. Woodson also saw Stoudemire’s improvement under Olajuwon.
He then asked Olajuwon if he would be interested in teaching Anthony, Chandler and others.
“The ranch is quiet and it’s very comfortable for the players,” Olajuwon said. “But I can understand with the guys coming back from the Olympics, so this time I made the exception to come to New York.”
Olajuwon said he was willing to give the Knicks feedback during the season. He expects the Knicks to progress under Woodson and contend in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks will be on Olajuwon’s TV a lot.
“When you work with a player for hours, days and weeks, you want to see them play,” he said. “You want to see how quickly they improve and mature.”