Hakeem Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to retire in the top ten all-time in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals.
Voted one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players during the league’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1996, Olajuwon was a 12-time All-Star. He led the Houston Rockets to two NBA championships, was twice voted Defensive Player of the Year and won an Olympic gold medal as part of Team USA in 1996. Hakeem The Dream is the best African player of all time. A physical marvel, he blended power and finesse with hard work and humility. In his 18-year NBA career, Olajuwon scored nearly 27,000 points and grabbed 13,748 rebounds, landing him in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
The nimble Olajuwon may have had the best footwork of any center in basketball history. His low post moves – which came to be known as Dream Shakes — were nearly unstoppable. In 1994, he became the first player to be named MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season. As good as he was on offense, The Dream may have been even better at the other end of the floor. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team five times, and made the second-team all-defensive unit in four other seasons. The ultimate rim protector, he finished his career with an NBA-record 3,830 blocks.
“Solve Hakeem?” said David Robinson, a Hall-of-Famer and 1992 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. “You don’t solve Hakeem.” After Houston swept the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals, stunned Magic center Shaquille O’Neal said of Olajuwon, “He’s got about five moves, then four countermoves. That gives him 20 moves.”
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, January 21, 1963, Akeem Abdul Olajuwon was the third of six children. His middle class parents, who preached the values of hard work and discipline, owned a cement business. “They taught us to be honest, work hard, respect our elders and believe in ourselves,” explained Olajuwon, which translates to always on top. Akeem developed agility as a soccer goalie and handball player. At 15, he was invited to join his high school basketball squad for a tournament in the All Nigeria Teachers Sports Festival. A hoops superstar was born, and two years later he was offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Houston.
After redshirting his first year at Houston, Olajuwon played sparingly as a freshman. The following summer, he worked out with and played against Moses Malone of the Houston Rockets. He returned to UH a lethal force, and became the heart and soul of the Cougars’ high-flying Phi Slama Jama teams of the early 1980s. Led by Olajuwon, Houston played in three straight Final Fours. In 1983, he was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament despite losing the title game to N.C. State. The following year, Akeem was named Southwest Conference Player of the Year and First Team All-American after leading the NCAA in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. Despite his superb play, the Cougars were bridesmaids once again, losing to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the final.
Following his junior season, Olajuwon declared for the 1984 NBA draft, which proved to be one of the richest in history. The Houston Rockets won a coin flip with Portland for the number one pick, and took Olajuwon. Four of the first 16 players selected in the ’84 draft – including Akeem, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton – ended up in the Hall of Fame. One year earlier, the Rockets won a coin flip with the Indiana Pacers, allowing them to pick Virginia’s Ralph Sampson at number one. The two flips of the coin birthed the Twin Towers of seven-foot Akeem Olajuwon and 7’4” Sampson, two agile giants.
Olajuwon finished second to Jordan for Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1984. He helped better Houston’s record from 29-53 the year before his arrival to 48-34 and a playoff berth in his first season as a Rocket. In 1985, Olajuwon and Sampson became the first teammates since Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor in 1970 to both average 20 points and 10 rebounds. When Sampson was traded to Golden State midway through the 1986-87 season, Olajuwon became the Rockets’ undisputed leader.
Hakeem [he dropped “Abdul” prior to entering the NBA and adopted “Hakeem” in 1991] is revered in Houston, where he played 20 consecutive seasons collegiately and as a pro. Arguably the best player in Houston Cougars’ history, he is undoubtedly the greatest ever to wear a Rockets uniform. Olajuwon led the NBA in blocks three times and was twice the league-leader in rebounds. After finishing second to Barkley in 1993 MVP voting, The Dream ran away with the award the following season. He led the Rockets to the 1994 NBA title, bringing Houston its first championship since the Oilers won the 1961 AFL crown. The following year, the nifty Nigerian rallied his team from a sixth-seed in the playoffs to their second straight NBA championship, making Houston just the fifth NBA franchise ever to win back-to-back titles.
Olajuwon, who became a naturalized American citizen in 1993, played for Houston from 1984 to 2001, when he was traded to the Toronto Raptors. He played one season in Toronto, then retired following the 2002 campaign. Mr. Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks in 1,238 NBA games. He is the only player in NBA history with more than 3,000 blocked shots and 2,000 steals and retired as the Rockets all-time leader in points, rebounds, steals and blocks. In 2016, ESPN ranked Hakeem Olajuwon the tenth greatest player in NBA history.
August is a significant month in the life of Hakeem Olajuwon. In 1996, he married his wife, Dalia Asafi, in Houston. In 2001, he was traded to the Toronto Raptors for draft picks, and, in 2015, he made a special appearance for Team Africa at the NBA Africa exhibition game. On this date in 2016, Mr. Olajuwon was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame.