Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon was one of the most productive centers in NBA history, ranking up with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He is widely considered to be the best defensive post player of his generation, and is indubitably the greatest basketball player ever to suit up as a Houston Rocket.
Olajuwon was born in Nigeria in 1963, where he grew up playing mainly soccer (he was once scouted as one of Nigeria's most promising goalkeepers). When he was in his late teens, colleges had not yet begun to recruit players from abroad. Olajuwon is often credited with starting the slow but steady globalization of basketball. At the age of 17, he was recruited by the University of Houston to play college ball, after turning down New York because it was too cold.
As a Cougar, Olajuwon became the anchor of "Phi Slamma Jamma," the nickname for the showboating Cougar teams of the early 80s. Along with Clyde Drexler, he led the Cougars to the NCAA Championship in 1984, and three appearances in the Final Four. Unfortunately, the highly regarded team was ousted each time, most notably by NC State in 1984. Olajuwon left college as a junior, and was taken with the first pick in the 1984 draft by the Rockets (in a class that included such legends as Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton).
The early Olajuwon Rockets paired him with veteran Ralph Sampson, a fellow big man, thus earning them the "Twin Towers" nickname. Hakeem garnered Rookie First-team honours and finished second to MJ in the Rookie of the Year voting. In only their second season, Olajuwon and Sampson powered the Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals, but they were defeated 4-2 by the Larry Bird-led Celtics. Sampson faded out after that season, and while Olajuwon put up spectacular numbers, Houston did not return to the Finals.
During this time Olajuwon established himself as the premier center in the NBA. He set a record for most blocks in an NBA playoff game with 10 against the Lakers. That same year, he became one of five players to ever put up a quadruple double, racking up 18 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and 11 blocks against the Milwaukee Bucks. He led the NBA in blocked shots and rebounds twice, and became the first player in history to reach a career total of 2,000 blocks and 2,000 steals. If Jordan's sky-high dunks defined his generation's offense, Olajuwon's devastating combination of strength and finesse reinvented inside defense. Olajuwon was named to the NBA All-Defensive team an astounding 9 times.
After Jordan's retirement in 1993, the Rockets seized the opportunity in the resulting power vacuum and once again charged to the Finals on the strength of Olajuwon's MVP season. By defeating the Knicks and outdueling Patrick Ewing in 7 games, the Rockets brought Houston its first professional sports title since the days of the AFL. Olajuwon was recognized as the MVP, Best Defensive Player, and Finals MVP. The next year, Houston suffered through a mediocre regular season, coasting into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. The fact that Hakeem insisted on observing the month of fasting during Ramadan didn't help matters, but despite intense pressure from fans and teammates, he stuck to his faith. However, the late addition of old teammate Clyde Drexler led to a remarkable run during which Olajuwon outclassed seasonal MVP David Robinson and Charles Barkley in the playoffs, making Houston known as Clutch City.
Olajuwon's Rockets now faced a Finals against the underdog Orlando Magic, led by a young Shaquille O'Neal. Despite the predictions of most pundits that it would be an even match, Olajuwon proceeded to take O'Neal to school, sweeping the Magic out of the Finals, and earning a second Finals MVP.
Sadly, Olajuwon's skills eroded after the 1995 Finals. Houston never made it past the Division Championships after that season; even with the additions of Barkley and Scottie Pippen, Houston was knocked out of the playoffs by the Utah Jazz three straight years. Even as Olajuwon continued to pad his career numbers, the drafting of Steve Francis and retirement of Barkley and Drexler were the final blow to the Olajuwon era in Houston.
He was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 2001, leaving Houston as the Rockets' all-time leader in points, rebounds, and steals. He also finished 3rd in assists, a remarkable feat for a 7' center in a category dominated by point guards. He is also the all-time NBA leader in blocked shots, although it is worth noting that the league did not keep this statistic in the days of Russell and Chamberlain.
In addition to his on-court performance, Olajuwon is one of the game's best citizens. He has used his money to help the Islamic church build mosques in Houston, and invested heavily back into the city. He also has established basketball camps in his home country of Nigeria. He refused endorsement offers from Nike and Reebok due to their price-gouging and labor practices, and instead signed on with Spalding to hawk his $35 namesake shoes. For these and other philanthropic activities, Olajuwon received the NBA Sportsmanship Award in 2000.
Although his twilight in Toronto was painful to watch (he finally retired in 2002 after declining grueling back surgery), Olajuwon will always be remembered as a Rocket, and is a certain Hall of Famer. In 1997, he was named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
YEAR PPG RPG APG SPG BPG
1985 20.6 11.9 1.4 1.21 2.68
1986 23.5 11.5 2.0 1.97 3.40
1987 23.4 11.4 2.9 1.87 3.39
1988 22.8 12.1 2.1 2.05 2.71
1989 24.8 13.5 1.8 2.60 3.44
1990 24.3 14.0 2.9 2.12 4.59
1991 21.2 13.8 2.3 2.16 3.96
1992 21.6 12.1 2.2 1.81 4.34
1993 26.1 13.0 3.5 1.83 4.17
1994 27.3 11.9 3.6 1.60 3.71
1995 27.8 10.8 3.5 1.85 3.36
1996 26.9 10.9 3.6 1.57 2.88
1997 23.2 9.2 3.0 1.50 2.22
1998 16.4 9.8 3.0 1.79 2.04
1999 18.9 9.6 1.8 1.64 2.46
2000 10.3 6.2 1.4 .93 1.59
2001 11.9 7.4 1.2 1.21 1.52
2002 7.1 6.0 1.1 1.21 1.48
ALL 21.8 11.1 2.5 1.75 3.09
Stats from NBA.com, all other material in this nodeshell rescue original. Clutch City Forever!