Thirty years ago today the greatest draft of all time took place, with Hakeem Olajuwon walking across the stage first. Most of us know Hakeem Olajuwon as the dominant force that brought Houston championships in the 90’s. Most of us know of his accolades and accomplishments but few know the full story. The story of Nigerian born center, who revolutionized the game.
One of the greatest centers to ever play the game, “The Dream” Hakeem Olajuwon is everything and more for the Houston fans when he was drafted number one overall in the famous “Jordan” draft. As Tim Duncan drinks champagne and celebrates his fifth title, let’s look back at our own legend; Houston’s finest, Hakeem Olajuwon.
Hakeem Olajuwon originates from Lagos, Nigeria and was the middle child, the third of six. Olajuwon’s parents owned a cement business, and from them he learned the importance of honesty, hard work, and the belief that comes from within. These principles were the foundation for Hakeem’s journey to greatness.
“Olajuwon” translates to always be on top. This is a fitting name for a seven foot tall man. However, always being on top didn’t necessarily translate to the basketball court. Hakeem didn’t start playing basketball until the age of 15. He was a soccer goalkeeper and handball player at his high school, Muslim Teachers College. A background in soccer and handball was key element in the development of Olajuwon’s superb balance and footwork. Those two features would eventually be a staple in his game for years to come. After only two years of playing, Hakeem decided to migrate to the United States in order to play basketball.
As weird as it is to say this, Olajuwon was not highly recruited to play college basketball. Olajuwon was offered a visit to the University of Houston, and when he arrived in the airport not a single representative from the college was there to greet him. After redshirting his first year, Hakeem saw limited playing time in his redshirt freshmen year. The Cougars would eventually lose in the NCAA tournament to the University of North Carolina lead by stars Michael Jordan and James Worthy.
Hakeem understood that he need to work hard to improve his game in order to have a bigger role with the team next season. He sought help, and eventually got the guidance he was looking for when the center of the Houston Rockets, Moses Malone became available. Hakeem spent countless hours with Malone that summer and rapidly improved his game.
Hakeem and Clyde Drexler began to be known as the “Phi Slamma Jamma” due to their above the rim play. You could call them the original “Lob City” or for FGCU fans, “Dunk City”. By the time of Olajuwon’s junior year he had became the hottest name on the college basketball. His averages were outstanding: 16.8 ppg, he lead the country in rebounds at 13.5 rpg, and top it all off sent 5.6 blocks a game into the stands. He was named a First-Team All American, however, eventually lost the National Championship game to Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas.
Olajuwon skipped his senior year of college and entered the 1984 draft, resulting in the Houston Rockets selecting him at number one. Ralph Sampson and Hakeem created the NBA’s first “Twins Towers”, as they were both 7 footers in the paint.
Hakeem had instant success in his rookie season he averaged almost 21 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks a game. Hakeem finished second in Rookie Of the Year voting to Michael Jordan. To add to the accolades that year, Olajuwon played in the All Star game, was named to the All Rookie team and the NBA All Defensive Second Team. They had a 19-win turnaround that season.
In Olajuwon’s second year the Rockets were able to make it to the NBA finals, but lost to Larry Bird and the Celtics in six games. Ralph Sampson again suffered from injuries and was eventually traded to the Golden State Warriors; this opened more opportunities for Olajuwon as he became the sole enforcer on the Rockets. He ran off a string of awards as he made the All NBA First Team 1987-1989, All Defensive Team 1987-1990 and was the starting center for the NBA All Star teams 1987-1990. On the other hand, the Houston Rockets had become stagnant and mediocre since their trip to the 1986 finals. New coach Rudy Tomjanovich, preached defense and reiterated that Olajuwon would be the focal point of the team.
Hakeem introduced a new line of spin moves, fade away shots and jumpers that became virtually unstoppable on offense. These sets of patented moves involved excellent footwork and discipline. He would use head fakes that would abuse defenders and this would come to be known as the “Dream Shake.” The 1993-94 Olajuwon hit the height of his achievement ladder as he won both the league and the NBA Finals MVP, leading the Houston Rockets to their first ever NBA Championship. This was the first of two championships as the Rockets went on to win back-to-back champions.
The city of Houston has not seen a championship banner since then and the city is itching for more. Since Olajuwon retired he has shared some of his moves from his playing days, most notably working with stars, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. He was also an instrumental part in the recruiting team that brought Howard to Houston, and we hope Olajuwon will be on recruiting committee this summer when the Rockets go after players like Carmelo Anthony and Lebron James.
Thank you Hakeem for all the great memories!