Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon (born Akeem Abdul Olajuwon on January 21, 1963 in Lagos, Nigeria) is a former professional basketball player whose best seasons were with the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association.
Listed at 7 ft (2.13 m), Hakeem is generally considered one of the five greatest center (basketball)s to ever play the game, along with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal. He was reverentially nicknamed "Hakeem the Dream" for his grace on and off the court.
University of Houston and "Phi Slamma Jamma"
Olajuwon, of the Yoruba ethnicity, traveled from his birthplace of Nigeria to play at the University of Houston, United States, becoming teammates with Clyde Drexler, among others, to form what was dubbed "Phi Slamma Jamma".
Olajuwon helped the Cougars advance to consecutive NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, where they lost to North Carolina State in 1983 and Georgetown University 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 bestowed this particular honor. Drexler departed for the NBA in 1983, leaving Olajuwon the lone star on the team.
He 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 Houston Rockets in the 1984 NBA Draft. In the days before the NBA Draft Lottery was introduced in 1985, the first pick was awarded by coin flip, and a lucky toss placed Houston ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers. It is to his credit that very few have ever criticized Houston for picking Olajuwon ahead of third pick Jordan, who went on to have a spectacular NBA career (unlike Portland's choice of Sam Bowie).
The Rockets had immediate success during Olajuwon's rookie season as their record improved from 29-53 in the 1983-84 NBA season to 48-34 in 1984-85 NBA season. He teamed with the 1984 NBA Rookie of the Year Award Ralph Sampson to form the original NBA "Twin Towers" duo. They took Houston to the NBA Finals in 1986 where they succumbed to the Boston Celtics.
Olajuwon averaged 20.6 points, 11.9 rebound (basketball) and 2.68 block (basketball) 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.
During the 1987-88 NBA season Sampson, who by the time was struggling with knee injuries that would eventually end his career prematurely, was traded to the Golden State Warriors. The 1988-89 NBA 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 would finish 45-37 and lose in the first round of the playoffs 3-1 to the Seattle SuperSonics. Olajuwon would finish the season as the league leader in rebound (basketball) (13.5 per game) by a full rebound per game over Charles Barkley to go along with averages of 24.8 point (basketball) and 3.4 block (basketball).
The 1989-90 NBA season was a disappointment for the Rockets. They would finish the season with a .500 record at 41-41, and though they snuck into the playoffs, they were eliminated in four games by the Los Angeles Lakers. Olajuwon put up one of the greatest defensive seasons by an interior player in the history of the NBA. He again won the NBA rebounding crown (14.0 per game) this time by an even larger margin; a full 2 rebound (basketball) a game over David Robinson (basketball), and led the league in block (basketball) by averaging an astounding 4.6 per game. To put that in perspective, Hakeem is the only player since the NBA starting recording blocked shots in 1973-74 NBA season to have averaged 14+ rebound (basketball) a game and 4.5+ bpg in the same season.
The 1990-91 NBA season saw a rebound in the Rockets record as they would finish 52-30 under NBA Coach of the Year Award Don Chaney. Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points per game in 1990-91 but did not play in enough games (56) to qualify for the rebounding title or he would have won it for a third consecutive year as he averaged 13.8 a game (league leader Robinson averaged 13.0 rpg). He did however average a league leading 3.95 block (basketball) per game. Unfortunately the enthusiasm from the Rockets' resurgent season was seriously dampened by their playoff sweep at the hands of the LA Lakers.
The 1991-92 NBA season was a low point for the Rockets during Olajuwon's tenure. They would finish 42-40 and miss the playoffs for the first time in Olajuwon's career. Despite his usual strong numbers he could not lift his team out of mediocrity. It was beginning to seem like a lifetime since Olajuwon had played in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. The Rockets had made the playoffs five times since then but their record in those playoff series was 1-5 and they were eliminated in the first round 4 times.
The Rockets began the 1992-93 NBA season with a new sense of optimism after a full training camp under coach Rudy Tomjanovich in his first full season with the team. Olajuwon set a new career high of 3.5 assist (basketball) per game. This willingness to pass the ball more actually increased his scoring as it made it harder for opposing teams to double- and triple-team him. Olajuwon set a new career high with 26.1 point (basketball) per game to go along with his usual stellar rebounding and shotblocking. The Rockets set a new franchise record with 55 wins and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, pushing the Seattle SuperSonics to a seventh game before losing in overtime 103-100. In stark contrast to the previous year the Rockets entered the 1993-94 season as a team on the rise. They had a good core of young players and tough veterans with a leader in Olajuwon who seemed to be entering his prime.
Olajuwon gained a reputation of being a great clutch performer and also as the greatest center of his generation based on his performances in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. He outplayed centers such as Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and O'Neal, and other defensive stalwarts like Dennis Rodman or Malone. His most difficult battles were with his fellow Texas-based rival David Robinson (basketball) of the San Antonio Spurs where Olajuwon would normally outplay Robinson in the stat sheets http://www.nba.com/rockets/history/Hakeem_Olajuwon_The_NBAs_Bes-91094-34.html. Their battles were fierce. While both players played for their respective Texan franchises, Olajuwon's Rockets were only 12-30 against Robinson's Spurs in 42 head-to-head games, but held the 4-2 advantage in the playoffs. 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 the NBA championship in 1994, in an epic seven-game series against the New York Knicks, the team of one of his perennial archenemies, 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 (basketball) (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. In Game 7, Olajuwon posted a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds, which helped overpower the Knicks http://webuns.chez-alice.fr/finals/1994.htm, bringing the first professional sports championships to Houston, Texas since the Houston Oilers won the American Football League championship in 1961. Olajuwon outscored Ewing in every game of the series and was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.
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 in the same season. Olajuwon's fame was well-deserved, as the Rockets team was probably one of the most lightly-loaded championship teams of all time. Neither the other starters (Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith) nor sixth man Sam Cassell were considered stars at the time, documented by the fact that Hakeem was the only Rockets All-Star player that year http://www.basketball-reference.com/allstar/NBA_1994.html.
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 Phi Slamma Jamma teammate Clyde Drexler's acquisition in a mid-season trade with the Portland Trailblazers-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 NBA Most Valuable Player Award Robinson was outplayed by Olajuwon, 35-24 PPG. Even his teammate Dennis Rodman a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner could not help the Spurs stop Olajuwon. Robinson told Life (magazine): "Hakeem? You don't solve Hakeem." http://www.nba.com/history/players/olajuwon_bio.html. The Rockets won every road game that series. In the NBA Finals, the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic, who were led by a young Shaquille O'Neal. The whole basketball world had waited for the matchup of the two great centers, and it was Olajuwon who outscored O'Neal 33-28 PPG. Hakeem scored 30+ points in every game, raising his own regular-season PPG rate by a full 5 points whereas O'Neal's production dropped by one http://webuns.chez-alice.fr/finals/1995.htm as Olajuwon was again named Finals MVP. As a side note, Hakeem was again the only All-Star Rockets player.http://www.basketball-reference.com/allstar/NBA_1995.html
Over the course of two seasons Olajuwon had cemented his place in history by outplaying and leading his team to victory in playoff series against three centers who are members of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History 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.
The Rockets' championship run ended when Michael Jordan returned from an 21-month hiatus in 1995, and his Chicago Bulls dominated the league for the next three years (1996–98). However, the Bulls and Rockets never met in the NBA Playoffs. Due to the NBA playoff format, the Rockets, as members of the Western Conference (NBA), could not meet the Bulls, who were members of the Eastern Conference (NBA), in the playoffs before the championship round, the NBA Finals. The Rockets had their most success in the 1996-97 season when they added Charles Barkley to their already formidable duo of Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. They started the season a scorching 21-2 and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before losing a tough 6 game series to the Utah Jazz. John Stockton hit a clutch game winning shot in the 6th and final game and the Rockets would never again come close to the Championship round during Hakeem's career.
Houston began to rebuild, bringing in young guards Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis, the 2000 Co-Rookie of the Year. On August 8, 2001, Hakeem 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 would play his final NBA season, averaging career lows of 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game before retiring as one of the greatest players of all time. Shortly after his retirement, his #34 jersey was retired by the Rockets.
Style of play
Offensively, Olajuwon established himself as great finesse player, perfecting a set of fakes and spin moves that became known as his trademark Dream Shake. Adding to dazzling footwork was a soft touch around the basket. He developed intense rivalries with some of the other great centers of that era, especially Patrick Ewing and David Robinson, as well as his openly hated rival Karl Malone.
Since shot blocking became an official stat in the 1973-74 NBA season, Olajuwon is the all-time league leader in total blocked shots with 3,830.
In the 2006 NBA offseason, Olajuwon opened his first Big Man Camp, where he teaches current big players how to improve their game. While Olajuwon never had interest in coaching a game, he wishes to give back to the game by helping younger players. When asked about how the league was becoming more guard-oriented and whether big men were being de-emphasized, Hakeem responded, "For a big man who is just big, maybe. But not if you play with speed, with agility. It will always be a big man's game if the big man plays the right way. On defense, the big man can rebound and block shots. On offense, he draws double-teams and creates opportunities. He can add so much, make it easier for the entire team."http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/sports/4093612.html
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 personal fouls. Olajuwon took an active interest in spirituality, becoming a devout Muslim. On March 9, 1991, he altered his name to the proper Arabic grammar spelling, saying, "I'm not changing the spelling of my name, I'm correcting it". Olajuwon was still recognized as one of the league's elite center (basketball)s despite his strict observance (e.g., fasting during daylight hours) of Ramadan, which occurred during the NBA season during virtually all of his career and is usually a handicap for Muslim athletes. During the month of Ramadan, he abstained from food, drink, and water during games before sundown, in observance of daily fasting. He also gained recognition for his sportsmanship and his charitable pursuits. With co-author Peter Knobler, Hakeem wrote his autobiography, Living the Dream, published in 1996.
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) One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996) Only player in NBA history to have won MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season (1994) One of the 4 players in NBA history to have ever recorded a quadruple-double.http://www.nba.com/history/players/olajuwon_bio.html Olajuwon also won the rebounding and blocked shots titles, becoming the third player ever (after Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton) to lead the league in both categories during the same season. All-time leader in Block (basketball), well past second-placed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (note: the NBA did not keep statistics for blocked shots until Abdul-Jabbar had been in the league several years, and after the retirement of noted shot-blockers Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell). Olajuwon is also in the top ten in blocks, Point (basketball), Rebound (basketball), and Steal (basketball). He is the only player in NBA history placed in the top ten for all four categories. Olajuwon ranks all-time 7th in steals and is by far the highest ranked center. (note that that statistic was not recorded until the 1973-74 season) http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/STL_career.html
Hakeem was a legitimate two-way threat, being devastating on both ends of the floor. On his own half of the hardwood, Olajuwon played smothering defense (he was a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner) and abused opponents with his shot-blocking ability, averaging 3.09 blocks per game in his career. Olajuwon was also quick enough to defend guards at the perimeter in clutch situations (as John Starks experienced, see above) and was also an excellent ball-thief, averaging 1.75 steals per game in his career. Olajuwon was also a prolific rebounder, averaging 11.0 boards.
On offense, Hakeem was famous for his soft touch around the basket and his legendary footwork combined with a vast array of fake moves, highlighted in his signature Dream Shake (see below). He was a prolific scorer, averaging 21.8 points in his career, and a feared offensive rebounder, averaging 3.3 offensive boards his career. Beyond this, Olajuwon could "put the ball on the floor" and dribble with guard (basketball)-like quickness. His versatility is best shown in one spectacular game: in 1987, Hakeem Olajuwon had 38 points, 17 rebounds, 12 blocks, 7 steals, and 6 assists for the Houston Rockets in a double-overtime win over the Seattle SuperSonics, becoming one of the few players to register at least 6 points, rebounds, blocks, steals, and assists in a single game. He is also one of the few players to have recorded a quadruple-double. As of 2006, Olajuwon is the only player to have won the MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Awards in the same year.
Beyond statistics, Olajuwon was also known to step up his game in clutch moments, being a two-times NBA Finals MVP, outplaying some of the best centers (i.e. David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal or Patrick Ewing) in direct matchups and winning titles despite never having an All-Star colleague as a second option in his team.
Beyond his raw ability, Olajuwon was constantly evolving his game. While he entered the game as an inside post player and above the rim player, he developed range out to 20 feet and even could reliably hit 3 point shots if he so desired.
Olajuwon was known for his Dream Shake, a set of faking and spinning moves in the post. 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 and four countermoves, that gives him 20 moves." http://www.nba.com/history/players/olajuwon_bio.html The Dream Shake made Hakeem near-unguardable for most of his career, because "big men" were too slow and guards too weak to stop him.
The Dream Shake was extremely difficult to defend, much like the hook shot of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Dream Shake's closest modern equivalent comes from Kevin Garnett, whose moves have less variety and include some perimeter action.
One particularly notorious Dream Shake came in the 1995 Western Conference playoff series against rival David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, who would be 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. Robinson, who was an excellent defender, kept up with Olajuwon and did not fall for the fake, remaining planted. However, Olajuwon spun counterclockwise and faked another layup. Robinson took the bait this time and jumped to block the shot. With Robinson caught in the air, Olajuwon performed an up-and-under move, scoring an easy basket. This sequence was executed with stunning quickness and agility.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW4uXlRGAF0
Hakeem Olajuwon has a daughter called Abi Olajuwon. She represented the West Girls in the McDonalds All American Game, and currently is on the women's basketball team at the University of Oklahoma. In addition to English Language, Olajuwon speaks French language, Arabic language, and the Nigerian languages of Yoruba, Igbo language and Ekiti. "Olajuwon" translates to "Superior Wealth" in Yoruba language. Hakeem, who endorsed a sneaker made by Spalding which retailed for $35, is one of the very few known players in any professional sport to endorse a sneaker not from Nike, Inc., Reebok, Adidas, or other high retail brands. As Olajuwon declared: "How can a poor working mother with three boys buy Nikes or Reeboks that cost $120?" he asks. "She can't. So kids steal these shoes from stores and from other kids. Sometimes they kill for them."http://www.newdream.org/newsletter/taylor.php
During his youth, Olajuwon was a soccer goalkeeper and handball player, which helped give him the footwork and agility to balance his size and strength in basketball, and also – according to himself – contributed to his shot-blocking ability.NBA Encyclopedia player profile - nba.com, NBA.2006 NBA All-Star Game - "It Was All A Dream" - nba.com, NBA
Hakeem appeared on a commerical for the Australian Football League that included other great sports people such as sailor Dennis Conner and tennis player John McEnroe where they espoused how impressive the game of Australian rules football is.
With co-author Peter Knobler, Hakeem wrote his autobiography, Living the Dream, published in 1996.
Courtesy of: http://www.wikipedia.org/