We Reminisce: When Shaq Was Supposed To Play Hakeem 1-On-1

By: 07.13.12
Hakeem Olajuwon

As we showed you earlier today, Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant have agreed to play one-on-one for $50,000, which will go to charity. This isn’t the first challenge issued among stars, however. Back in 1990, Magic Johnson was supposed to play Michael Jordan, but that got cancelled. Perhaps the most famous one-on-one challenge was supposed to be between Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon. The game had a sponsor in Taco Bell, a venue in the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City and was supposed to go down on September 30th, 1995. The “Taco Bell One-On-One Championship,” otherwise known as “The War on the Floor,” was going to be a pay-per-view event available nationwide, but sadly it was cancelled due to Hakeem’s ailing back.

Despite the event’s cancellation, the memory lives on and with Kyrie vs. Kobe supposedly happening soon – so let’s reminisce about “The War on the Floor.”

The inspiration for the one-on-one event must have been conjured up from this ad that, according to The Washington Post, Shaq took out in papers nationwide, which was dug up two years ago by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Gray:

As you may remember, Hakeem’s Houston Rockets swept Shaq’s Orlando Magic in convincing fashion in the 1995 NBA Finals. Hakeem scored more than 30 points in each game of the sweep and made many question Shaq’s up and coming ability. From a 1995 PRNewswire article:

“The overwhelming outpouring of interest across America to see Shaq and Hakeem actually go one-on-one, no holds barred, left Taco Bell with just one choice: to help make the dream a reality,” said Jerry Gramaglia, senior vice president, Taco Bell Corp. “It’s a defining moment for Shaq, Hakeem and Taco Bell, and one that will go down in the record books as one of the most exciting events in the annals of sports history. We are proud to be the sponsor of this extraordinary event.”

“Shaq versus Hakeem in the Taco Bell One-on-One Championship will be the most fabulous event Atlantic City has ever seen, and only the Trump Taj Mahal could host such a mega-event. Once again, the entire world will be focused on Atlantic City for what is sure to be an event that will go down in history,” said Donald J. Trump.

With Shaq and Hakeem’s agent at the time, Leonard Armato, promoting and planning the event, it all began to take shape. From a 1995 Los Angeles Times article:

“There are pages and pages of rules. There’s a 12-second shot clock. There are two-point, three-point, even six-point shots. There will be one minute between rounds and a halftime after five. In any round that ends in a tie–same as a Skins Game–the money carries over.

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Hakeem Olajuwon

“We have developed a game that combines the skills of basketball with the format of boxing. We also guarantee ten rounds of non-stop excitement because of the winner-take-all concept of the Skins Game. This is without a doubt the heavyweight championship of the world,” added Armato.

“Every NBA player, as well as every kid on the playground, relates to one-on-one basketball,” said Armato. “It’s one thing to say `my team beat your team,’ but one-on-one is for the ultimate bragging rights. This is basketball at its most basic, personal level — a game of hand-to-hand combat.”

The event even had an undercard:

Nick Van Exel of the Lakers also will be there, for a little-guy contest against Kenny Anderson, as will a couple of raw NBA rookies, Joe Smith against the teen-aged Kevin Garnett, who isn’t old enough to go into the Trump Taj Mahal to see the showgirls.”

Shaq and Hakeem got together and filmed a promo spot – boxing style – for the matchup:

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To promote it even more, they debuted a Taco Bell ad campaign for Taco Bell’s Double Decker taco that Spike Lee directed and acted in:

Lee also directed another ad which had the duo riding a tandem bicycle through Central Park.

Shaq vs. Hakeem’s “The War on the Floor” was supposed to happen seventeen years ago; let’s hope that Kyrie vs. Kobe can have similar hype but actually come to fruition.

Who would win a game of one-on-one between Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant?

Follow Ananth on Twitter at @Ananth_Pandian.

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