Hakeem Olajuwon Biography
Hakeem Olajuwon is a retired Nigerian-born basketball player who rose to stardom with the Houston Cougars on a collegiate level, and then with the Houston Rockets in the National Basketball Association. Nicknamed, "The Dream," Olajuwon was a 12-time all-star, 1993-94 MVP, 2-time NBA champion (with Rockets in 1994 and 1995) and the 1994 and 1995 NBA Finals MVP. Olajuwon is the NBA's all-time leader in blocked shots, 8th in points scored, and 11th in total rebounds.
Olajuwon was selected with the first overall pick by the Rockets in the famed 1984 draft. In that draft, Olajuwon was picked ahead of such luminaries as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. He went on to spend 17 seasons with the Rockets, bringing the city their only major sports championships. He's the franchise's all-time leader in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, minutes and games played. Today, his number is retired by the Rockets organization, and a statue of him stands outside of Toyota Center in downtown Houston, where the Rockets play their home games. Olajuwon was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Olajuwon came to the United States from his native Lagos, Nigeria in 1980 to play collegiately for the University of Houston. He came with little fanfare, but within three years had become one of the greatest college basketball players in history, leading the Cougars to 3 straight NCAA Final Four appearances. Called 'Akeem' while at Houston, Olajuwon was part of the famed "Phi Slama Jama" team that was an NCAA finalist and finished the year with a 31-3 record. He averaged 13.9 PPG and 11.4 RPG (highest in the SWC) that year, helping the Cougars win their first ever Southwest Conference regular season title with a 16-0 record.
As a junior, Olajuwon was named a consensus All-American after leading Houston to their 2nd straight NCAA Championship game and a 32-5 record. The Cougars won their second straight regular and postseason SWC titles, as Akeem was named MVP of the SWC Postseason Classic. He led the nation in 2 statistical categories that year, as he was the leader in field goal percentage (.675) and rebounding (13.5 RPG). Later, Olajuwon was named the SWC Player of the Decade in the 1980's. In February of 1997, he and teammate Clyde Drexler had their numbers retired by the University.
Olajuwon was drafted with the first overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. Akeem became the 2nd Cougar to be selected as the top player in the draft by the Rockets (Elvin Hayes, '68). The 1984 NBA Draft is regarded as possibly the best of all-time, as Olajuwon was selected ahead of such luminaries as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton.
His rookie season, Olajuwon played all 82 games for the Rockets, averaging 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Olajuwon was selected to his first of 6 consecutive all-star teams. The Rockets that year were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Utah. The following season, Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, nicknamed "The Twin Towers," led the Rockets to the NBA Finals. That season, Olajuwon averaged better than 23 points and 11 rebounds per game. The Rockets were defeated by the Celtics in the NBA Finals in 6 games.
In 1987, he was named to his first NBA All-Defensive team, as well as his first All-NBA team. He would be named to 6 All-NBA teams in his illustrious career. Olajuwon averaged at least 22.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game each season from 1986-1990. The Rockets would make the playoffs in 8 of Olajuwon's first 9 seasons in the league, but never advanced beyond the Western Conference semis until 1994.
The Rockets began the 1993-94 season by winning their first 15 games. It was a harbinger of things to come -- as it would prove to be the best season in franchise history on a number of fronts. Hakeem averaged a then-career-high 27.3 points per game for the season, as Houston won a franchise record 58 games in the regular season. They then marched through the postseason, in a run that included an epic 7-game series against the Phoenix Suns. The Rockets went on beat the Knicks in 7 games in the NBA Finals, and Olajuwon won both the league MVP award and the NBA Finals MVP award.
The following season, the Rockets weren't as strong in the regular season (finishing 3rd in the Midwest division), but were energized by a mid-season deal, as Olajuwon was paired with former Houston Cougars teammate Clyde Drexler. The two paired up for another memorable run, this time finishing what they couldn't accomplish in college -- winning it all. After defeating league MVP David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals, the Rockets swept Shaquille O'Neal and the Magic to win their 2nd NBA title.
In 1996, Olajuwon enjoyed a pair of immense honors. After gaining American citizenship, Olajuwon was named to the US Olympic team that won a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Another honor was being named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, which was announced on October 29th of that year.
The Rockets would continue to pursue championship glory with Hakeem as their centerpiece, but would never return to the NBA Finals with him. Olajuwon continued to be one of the game's elite players, being named to the All-NBA 2nd team in 1996, and 1st team in 1997. He averaged 23.2 PPG in 1997, his last season with more than 20 points per game. Part of this was the cause of adding additional prolific scorers: Charles Barkley spent 4 years with the Rockets from 1996-2000, and Scottie Pippen was acquired and played with the team in the '98-99 season.
The 1997 season began on a tremendous uptick for the Rockets, as they started the year 21-2. They went on to win 57 games in the regular season, the 2nd-highest total in franchise history. They advanced to the Western Conference Finals that year against the Utah Jazz, but were eliminated in 6 games. After being eliminated in the first round of the 1999 playoffs by the Lakers, Pippen was traded to Portland, leaving the aging Olajuwon and Barkley to lead the team.
On August 2, 2001, Olajuwon was traded to the Toronto Raptors, where he played his final NBA season. Shortly after retirement, his number 34 was retired by the Rockets.
Olajuwon still owns a home in Houston, where he is regarded as an iconic figure. He has had great success in the Houston real estate market, where he deals in cash-only transactions, because it is against Islamic law to pay interest. He spends most of his time in Jordan, where he continues to pursue Islamic studies. He also conducts an annual Big Man Camp, with attendees including Emeka Okafor and Yao Ming.
Olajuwon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.