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Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon (born on January 21, 1963) is a retired Nigerian American professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Olajuwon played center for the Houston Rockets, whom he led to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, and the Toronto Raptors.

Olajuwon traveled from his home country of Nigeria to play collegiately for the University of Houston. Hakeem had a standout career for the Cougars alongside future NBA Hall of Fame player Clyde "The Glide" Drexler, which included three trips to the Final Four. Olajuwon was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the first overall selection of the 1984 NBA Draft, a draft that included Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton. Olajuwon joined the Houston Rockets and was affectionately known as Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. He combined with the 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m) Ralph Sampson to form what was dubbed the "Twin Towers" duo. The two led the Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals where they lost in six games to the Boston Celtics.

After Sampson was traded to the Golden State Warriors in 1988, Olajuwon became the undisputed leader of the team. He led the league in rebounding twice (1989, 1990) and shot-blocking three times (1990, 1991, 1993). In the 1993-94 season he became the only player in NBA history to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP), Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards in the same season. His Rockets won back to back championships against The New York Knicks, avenging his college championship loss to Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O'Neal's Orlando Magic. In 1996, Olajuwon assisted in the gold medal-winning performance of the United States national team, and was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He ended his career the league's all-time leader in blocked shots. Olajuwon is also the only NBA player ever to end his career in Top 10 for blocks (1st all-time) and steals (7th all-time).

Listed at 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m) but closer to 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) by his own admission, Olajuwon is generally considered one of the five greatest centers to ever play the game, along with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal. Olajuwon is also a devout Muslim who observed Ramadan throughout his NBA career. He was reverentially nicknamed "Hakeem the Dream" for his grace on and off the court.

Early lifeEdit

Olajuwon was born to Salim and Abike Olajuwon, middle-class, Yoruba owners of a cement business in Lagos, Nigeria. He was the third of his parents' six children. He credits his parents with instilling virtues of hard work and discipline into him and his siblings; "They taught us to be honest, work hard, respect our elders, believe in ourselves". Olajuwon did not play basketball until the age of 15, when he entered a local tournament.

Basketball careerEdit

University of Houston and "Phi Slama Jama"Edit

Olajuwon emigrated from Nigeria to play basketball at the University of Houston under Cougars coach Guy Lewis. Olajuwon was not highly recruited and was merely offered a visit to the university to work out for the coaching staff, based on a recommendation from a friend of Lewis' who had seen Olajuwon play. He later amusingly recalled that when he originally arrived at the airport in 1980 for the visit, no representative of the university was there to greet him. When he called the staff, they told him to take a taxi out to the university. While there, his teammates (including Clyde Drexler) and he formed what was dubbed "Phi Slama Jama", the first slam-dunking "fraternity", so named because of its well-known above the rim prowess and tendency to frequently slam dunk the basketball. [[Image:Olajuwon UH 34 CIMG1905.JPG|thumb|150px|right|One of only four numbers retired by the University of Houston men's basketball team, Olajuwon's #34 hangs in Hofheinz Pavilion.

After redshirting his freshman year in 1980-81, Olajuwon played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 1981–82, and the Cougars were eliminated in the Final Four by the eventual NCAA champion, North Carolina Tar Heels. Olajuwon sought advice from the coaching staff about how to increase his playing time, and they advised him to work out with local Houston resident and multiple NBA MVP winner, Moses Malone. Malone, who was then a member of the NBA's Houston Rockets, played games every off season with several NBA players at the Fonde Recreation Center. Olajuwon joined the workouts and went head to head with Malone in several games throughout the summer. Olajuwon credited this experience with rapidly improving his game, saying, "...when you play against a guy like Moses it can't help but make you better." Olajuwon won the 1983 NCAA Tournament Player of the Year award, even though he played for the losing team in the final game. He is, to date, the last player from a losing side to be bestowed this honor. Drexler departed for the NBA in 1983, leaving Olajuwon the lone star on the team.

After the 1983–84 season, Olajuwon debated whether to stay in college or declare early for the NBA draft. At that time (before the NBA Draft Lottery was introduced in 1985), the first pick was awarded by coin flip. Olajuwon recalled: "I really believed that Houston was going to win the coin flip and pick the number 1 draft choice, and I really wanted to play in Houston so I had to make that decision (to leave early)."

Houston RocketsEdit

The Rockets had immediate success during Olajuwon's rookie season as their win-loss record improved from 29–53 in the 1983-84 NBA season to 48–34 in 1984-85. He teamed with the 1984 Rookie of the Year, 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m) Ralph Sampson to form the original NBA "Twin Towers" duo. Olajuwon averaged 20.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.68 blocks in his rookie season. He finished as runner-up to Michael Jordan in the 1985 Rookie of the Year voting, and was the only other rookie to receive any votes.

Olajuwon averaged 23.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game during his second pro season (1985–86).

Mid-careerEdit

During the 1987-88 NBA season, Sampson (who was struggling with knee injuries that would eventually end his career prematurely) was traded to the Golden State Warriors. The 1988-89 season was Olajuwon's first full season as the Rockets' undisputed leader. This change also coincided with the hiring of new coach Don Chaney. The Rockets ended the regular season with a record of 45–37, Olajuwon posted exceptional playoff numbers of 37.5 ppg and 16.8 rpg, plus a record for points in a four-game playoff series (150). Nevertheless, the Rockets were eliminated in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks 3 games to 1.

The 1989-90 season was a disappointment for the Rockets. They finished the season with a .500 record at 41–41, becoming only the third player to do so.

The 1990-91 season saw a rebound in the Rockets' record as they finished with a record of 52–30 From the 1989–90 season to the 1995–96 season, when both Olajuwon and Robinson were considered to be in their primes, in their 30 head–to–head matchups Olajuwon averaged 26.3 ppg, shooting 47.6% from the field. Robinson averaged 22.1 ppg, at 46.8% from the field.

Olajuwon's Rockets finally won a championship during the 1994 NBA Finals in an epic seven-game series against the New York Knicks, the team of one of his perennial rivals since his collegiate days, Patrick Ewing. After five games, the Knicks had taken a 3–2 lead, when the Rockets defended an 86–84 lead in the final seconds of the game. In the last second, hot-shooting Knicks guard John Starks (who had scored 27 points until then) went up for a finals-winning three, but Olajuwon pulled off one of the greatest clutch defensive plays of all time and blocked the shot as time expired. In Game Seven, Olajuwon posted a game–high 25 points and 10 rebounds, which helped overpower the Knicks, bringing the first professional sports championships to Houston since the Houston Oilers won the American Football League championship in 1961. Olajuwon dominated Ewing in their head–to–head matchup outscoring him in every game of the series and posting numbers of 26.9 ppg on 50.0% shooting compared to Ewing's 18.9 ppg on 36.3% shooting. For his efforts Olajuwon was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. With the Rockets winning Game 7, Olajuwon not only denied another seventh heaven for a New York team when winning a major sports championship, but also denied New York City from having both an NBA and an NHL title. During those finals, the New York Rangers went to seventh heaven, winning the Stanley Cup by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, which took place on the Knicks' home court and was attended by some of Olajuwon's teammates, according to The Houston Chronicle.

Olajuwon was at the pinnacle of his career. In that year, he became the only player in NBA history to win MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. In so doing he became the first foreign-born player to win the league's MVP award.

Despite a slow start by the team and the erratic behavior displayed by the team's starting shooting guard Vernon Maxwell—which resulted in not only "Mad Max"'s exile from the team, but also Olajuwon's former University of Houston Phi Slama Jama teammate Clyde Drexler's acquisition in a mid-season trade with the Portland Trail Blazers—the Rockets repeated as champions in 1995, led again by the stellar play of Olajuwon who averaged 27.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, and 3.4 bpg in the regular season. Olajuwon displayed perhaps the most impressive moments of his career when the Rockets faced the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals. Recently crowned league MVP Robinson was outplayed by Olajuwon, 35–24 PPG. When asked later what a team could do to "solve" Olajuwon, Robinson told LIFE magazine: "Hakeem? You don't solve Hakeem." Olajuwon was again named Finals MVP. During the entire 1994–95 playoffs Olajuwon was unstoppable, averaging 33.0 ppg on .531 shooting to go along with averages of 10.3 rpg and 2.81 bpg.

Over the course of two seasons Olajuwon had cemented his place in history by leading his team to victory in playoff series against teams led by three centers who are members of the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. This is made even more impressive by the fact that none of these players was considered on the downside of their playing careers during this period. In addition, Olajuwon did not have an All–Star teammate to aide him during this period.

Post-championship periodEdit

The Rockets' two-year championship run ended when they were eliminated in the second round of the 1996 NBA Playoffs by the eventual Western Conference Champion Seattle SuperSonics. Michael Jordan had returned from a 21-month hiatus in late 1995, and his Chicago Bulls would dominate the league for the next three years (1996–98). The Bulls and Rockets—the two most dominant teams of the mid-90s—never met in the NBA Playoffs. The Rockets posted a 57–win season in 1996-97 season when they added Charles Barkley to their already formidable duo of Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. They started the season an impressive 21–2, and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before losing a six–game series to the Utah Jazz. John Stockton hit a clutch game-winning shot in the sixth and final game of the series at The Summit. The Rockets never again came close to the NBA Finals during Olajuwon's career. After averaging 26.9 and 23.2 points in 1995–96 and 1996–97 respectively, Olajuwon's production dipped to 16.4 ppg in 1997–98. Drexler retired. In 1998–99 the Rockets acquired veteran All-Star Scottie Pippen formerly of the Bulls, and finished 31–19 in the lockout shortened regular season. Olajuwon's scoring production rose to 18.9 ppg, After the season, Pippen was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, leaving the aging Olajuwon and Barkley to lead the team.

After the 1993 season, Olajuwon became a naturalized American citizen. Olajuwon was traded to the Toronto Raptors for draft picks (the highest of which was used by Houston to draft Bostjan Nachbar at #15 in the 2002 NBA Draft), where he played his final NBA season, averaging career lows of 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, He is also one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double, illustrating his versatility.

Beyond statistics, Olajuwon was also known to step up his game in clutch moments. He was twice named NBA Finals MVP and he outplayed the best centers (e.g. David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Patrick Ewing) of his generation at clutch times in head-to-head matchups.

One particularly standout Dream Shake came at The Alamodome in Game 5 of the 1995 Western Conference playoff series against rival David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, who was voted the season MVP. With Robinson guarding him, Olajuwon crossed over from his right hand to his left, drove to the basket, and faked a layup.

Personal lifeEdit

Olajuwon married his current wife Dalia Asafi on August 8, 1996 in Houston. They have two daughters, Rahmah and Aisha Olajuwon. Olajuwon also has a daughter with his former wife and college sweetheart Lita Spencer named Abisola Olajuwon, who represented the West Girls in the McDonalds All American Game and is currently is on the women's basketball team at the University of Oklahoma. In addition to English, Olajuwon is fluent in many other languages, such as French, Arabic, and the Nigerian languages of Yoruba and Ekiti. "Olajuwon" translates to "always being on top" in Yoruba.

Muslim faithEdit

In Olajuwon's college career and early years in the NBA, he was often undisciplined, talking back to officials, getting in minor fights with other players such as Magic Johnson, and amassing technical fouls. But later, Olajuwon took an active interest in spirituality, becoming a more devout Muslim. On March 9, 1991, he altered his name from Akeem to the proper Arabic spelling Hakeem, saying, "I'm not changing the spelling of my name, I'm correcting it". He later recalled, "I studied the Qur'an every day. At home, at the mosque...I would read it in airplanes, before games and after them. I was soaking up the faith and learning new meanings each time I turned a page. I didn't dabble in the faith, I gave myself over to it."

Post-NBA lifeEdit

Olajuwon played for 20 consecutive seasons in the Houston area, first collegiately for the[Houston Cougars and then the Rockets. Olajuwon has had great success in the Houston real estate market, with his estimated profits exceeding $100 million. He buys in cash-only purchases, as it is against Islamic law to pay interest. Since his career ended Olajuwon spends most of his time in Jordan where he moved with his family to pursue Islamic studies. Olajuwon has worked with several NBA players such as power forward Emeka Okafor, of the Charlotte Bobcats, and center Yao Ming of the Rockets, among others. He also runs the camp for free. To this point, every member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list who is eligible has been inducted.

AccoladesEdit

  • 2x NBA champion (1994, '95)
  • 2x NBA Finals MVP (1994, '95)
  • 1x NBA MVP (1994)
  • 2x Defensive Player of Year (1993, '94)
  • 6x All-NBA First Team (1987, '88, '89, '93, '94, '97)
  • 3x All-NBA Second Team ('86, '90, '96)
  • 3x All-NBA Third Team (1991, '95, '99)
  • 5x All-Defensive First Team ('87, '88, '90, '93, '94)
  • 12x All-Star
  • Olympic gold medalist (1996)
  • Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).
  • Only player in NBA history to have won MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season (1994).
  • Olajuwon ranks 7th all-time in steals and is by far the highest ranked center. (note that steals were not recorded until the 1973-74 season)
  • In 1989, Olajuwon had 282 blocks and 218 steals, becoming the only NBA player to record over 200 blocks and 200 steals in a season.
  • Olajuwon is one of few players to record more than 200 blocks and 100 steals in a season. As the all-time leader in this feat, he did it for 11 seasons (consecutively from the 1985-86 season to the 1995-96 season). The next closest is David Robinson, who did it for 7 seasons.
  • Olajuwon has recorded an NBA record six five by fives in his career.
  • Olajuwon was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2008.

SourcesEdit

  • Harris, Othello, Nolte, Claire Elaine, and Kirsch, George B. Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States, Greenwood Press. 2000 ISBN 0313299110
  • Heisler, Mark. Big Men Who Shook the NBA. Triumph Books. 2003 ISBN 1572437669
  • Olajuwon, Hakeem with Knobler, Peter. Living the Dream: My Life and Basketball. Little, Brown and Company. 1996 ISBN 0-316-09427-7


External linksEdit

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