Hakeem Olajuwon Biography
Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon (born January 21, 1963) is a retired Nigerian American professional basketball player. From 1984 to 2002, he played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors. He led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. In 2008, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. 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 considered one of the greatest centers ever to play the game.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Olajuwon traveled from his home country to play for the University of Houston under Coach Guy Lewis. His college career for the Cougars included three trips to the Final Four. At the time, he spelled his first name Akeem. 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 nicknamed "Akeem The Dream" for his grace on and off the court. He combined with the 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m) Ralph Sampson to form a duo dubbed the "Twin Towers". 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 Rockets' undisputed leader. He led the league in rebounding twice (1989, 1990) and shot-blocking three times (1990, 1991, 1993). Raised as a Muslim, Olajuwon became more devoted to the faith during this period and changed the spelling of his name from Akeem to Hakeem. Despite very nearly being traded during a bitter contract dispute before the 1992–93 season, he remained with the team. In 1993-94, 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 was a member of the Olympic gold-medal-winning United States national team, and was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He ended his career as the league's all-time leader in blocked shots.
Olajuwon was born to Salim and Abike Olajuwon, middle-class Yoruba owners of a cement business in Lagos, Nigeria. "Olajuwon" translates to "always being on top" in Yoruba.
During his youth, Olajuwon was a soccer goalkeeper, which helped give him the footwork and agility to balance his size and strength in basketball, and also contributed to his shot-blocking ability. Olajuwon did not play basketball until the age of 15, when he entered a local tournament.
University of Houston and "Phi Slama Jama"
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 recalled that when he originally arrived at the airport in 1980 for the visit, no representative of the school was there to greet him. When he called the staff, they told him to take a taxi out to the university. While there, he and his teammates (including Clyde Drexler) formed what was dubbed "Phi Slama Jama", the first slam-dunking "fraternity", so named because of its above-the-rim prowess.
After redshirting his freshman year in 1980-81 because he could not yet get clearance from the NCAA to play, 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 center on 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: "The way Moses helped me is by being out there playing and allowing me to go against that level of competition. He was the best center in the NBA at the time, so I was trying to improve my game against the best."
Olajuwon returned from that summer a different player, and in his sophomore and junior years he helped the Cougars advance to consecutive NCAA championship games, where they lost to North Carolina State on a last second tip-in in 1983 and a Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown team in 1984. 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 granted 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)." His intuition proved correct, and a lucky toss placed Houston ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers. Olajuwon was considered the top amateur prospect in the summer of 1984 over fellow collegians and future NBA stars Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, and was selected first overall by the Rockets in the 1984 NBA Draft.
The Rockets had immediate success during Olajuwon's rookie season, as their win-loss record improved from 29–53 in the 1983–84 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). The Rockets advanced to the 1986 NBA Finals where they succumbed in six games to the Boston Celtics, whose 1986 team is often considered one of the best teams in NBA history.
During the 1987–88 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 in NBA history to do so.
The Rockets finished the 1990–91 season with a record of 52–30 However, the Rockets were swept in the playoffs by the LA Lakers.
The following season was a low point for the Rockets during Olajuwon's tenure. They finished 42–40, Despite his usual strong numbers, he could not lift his team out of mediocrity. Since making the Finals in 1986, the Rockets had made the playoffs five times, but their record in those playoff series was 1–5 and they were eliminated in the first round four times. Following the season, Olajuwon requested a trade in part because of his bad contract; his salary was considerably low for a top center, and his contract specifically forbade re-negotiation. He also expressed displeasure with the organization's efforts to surround him with quality players. He felt the Rockets had cut corners at every turn, and were more concerned with the bottom line than winning. Management had also infuriated Olajuwon during the season when they accused of him of faking a hamstring injury because of his unhappiness over his contract situation. His agent cited his differences with the organization as being "irreconcilable", and Olajuwon publicly insulted owner Charlie Thomas and the team's front office. With the 1992–93 season approaching, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle
said that Olajuwon being dealt was "as close to a sure thing as there is."
Nonetheless he was not traded and the Rockets began the season with a new coach in Rudy Tomjanovich. Olajuwon improved his passing in 1992–93, which had previously been considered subpar, setting a new career high of 3.5 assists per game. The team rewarded him with a four year contract extension toward the end of the regular season. In stark contrast to the previous year, the Rockets entered the 1993–94 season as a team on the rise. They had a solid core of young players and veterans, with a leader in Olajuwon who was entering his prime.
Olajuwon gained a reputation as a clutch performer and also as one of the top centers in history based on his performances in the 1993–94 and 1994–95 seasons. In the 30 head–to–head match-ups during the seven seasons from the 1989 to 1996, when both Olajuwon and Robinson were in their prime, Olajuwon averaged 26.3 points per game, shooting 47.6% from the field, while Robinson averaged 22.1 and 46.8%.
The Rockets won the 1994 NBA Finals in a seven-game series against the New York Knicks, the team of one of Olajuwon's perennial rivals since his collegiate days, Patrick Ewing. After being down 2-1, the Knicks took a 3–2 lead into Game 6. The Rockets were defending an 86–84 lead when in the last second, Knicks guard John Starks (who had already scored 27 points) went up for a finals-winning three. Olajuwon pulled off a clutch play by blocking the shot as time expired. In Game 7, Olajuwon posted a game–high 25 points and 10 rebounds, which helping defeat 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 match-up, outscoring him in every game of the series and averaging 26.9 points per game on 50% shooting, compared to Ewing's 18.9 and 36.3%. For his efforts Olajuwon was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
Olajuwon was at the pinnacle of his career. In 1994 he became the only player in NBA history to win MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. He was also the first foreign-born player to win the league's MVP award.
Despite a slow start by the team, and Olajuwon missing eight games toward the end of the season with anemia, the Rockets repeated as champions in 1995. They were bolstered in part by Olajuwon's former University of Houston Phi Slama Jama teammate Clyde Drexler's acquisition in a mid-season trade from the Portland Trail Blazers. Olajuwon averaged 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game during the regular season. Olajuwon was again named Finals MVP. He averaged 33.0 points on .531 shooting, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.81 blocks in the 1995 Playoffs.
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 dominated the league for the next three years (1996–98). The Bulls and Rockets never met in the NBA Playoffs. The Rockets posted a 57–win season in 1996–97 season when they added Charles Barkley to their roster. They started the season 21–2, but lost the Western Conference Finals in six games to the Utah Jazz. After averaging 26.9 and 23.2 points in 1995–96 and 1996–97 respectively, Olajuwon's point production dipped to 16.4 in 1997–98. Drexler retired. In 1998–99 the Rockets acquired veteran All-Star Scottie Pippen and finished 31–19 in the lockout-shortened regular season. Olajuwon's scoring production rose to 18.9 points per game, After the season, Pippen was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Olajuwon became a naturalized American citizen during the 1993 season, and was a member of the Dream Team III, the famed U.S. men's basketball team that won the gold medal during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Houston began to rebuild, bringing in young guards Cuttino Mobley and 2000 NBA co-Rookie of the Year Steve Francis. On August 2, 2001, 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, before retiring. Olajuwon retired as the all–time league leader in total blocked shots with 3,830, although shot blocking did not become an official statistic until the 1973-74 NBA season. Shortly after his retirement, his #34 jersey was retired by the Rockets.
Olajuwon was highly skilled as both an offensive and defensive player. On defense, his rare combination of quickness and strength allowed him to guard a wide range of players effectively. He was noted for both his outstanding shot-blocking ability and his unique talent (for a frontcourt player) for stealing the ball. Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to record more than 200 blocks and 200 steals in the same season. He averaged 3.09 blocks and 1.75 steals per game for his career. He is the only center to rank among the top ten all time in steals. Olajuwon was also an outstanding rebounder, with a career average of 11.1 rebounds per game. He led the NBA in rebounding twice, during the 1989 and 1990 seasons. He was twice named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and was a five-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection.
On offense, Olajuwon was famous for his deft shooting touch around the basket and his nimble footwork in the low post. With the ball, Hakeem displayed a vast array of fakes and spin moves, highlighted in his signature "Dream Shake" (see below). He was a prolific scorer, averaging 21.8 points per game for his career, He is one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double in the NBA.
Olajuwon established himself as an unusually skilled offensive player for a big man, perfecting a set of fakes and spin moves that became known as his trademark
. Executed with uncanny speed and power, they are still regarded as the pinnacle of "big man" footwork. Shaquille O'Neal stated: "Hakeem has five moves, then four countermoves -- that gives him 20 moves." Olajuwon himself traced the move back to the soccer-playing days of his youth. "The Dream Shake was actually one of my soccer moves which I translated to basketball. It would accomplish one of three things: one, to misdirect the opponent and make him go the opposite way; two, to freeze the opponent and leave him devastated in his tracks; three, to shake off the opponent and giving him no chance to contest the shot." The Dream Shake was extremely difficult to defend, much like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook.
One standout Dream Shake came in Game 5 of the 1995 Western Conference playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. With David Robinson guarding him, Olajuwon crossed over from his right hand to his left, drove to the basket and faked a layup.