Hakeem Olajuwon is a Nigerian American former professional basketball player. From 1984 to 2002, he played the center position in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Houston Rockets and the 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, and in 2016, he was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame.
Hakeem Olajuwon was born to Salim and Abike Olajuwon, working class Yoruba owners of a cement business in Lagos. He was the third of eight children. He credits his parents with instilling virtues of hard work and discipline into him and his siblings; “They taught us to be honest, work hard, respect our elders, and believe in ourselves”. Olajuwon has expressed displeasure at his childhood in Nigeria being characterized as backward. “Lagos is a very cosmopolitan city … There are many ethnic groups. I grew up in an environment at schools where there were all different types of people.”
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 17, when he entered a local tournament. It has been said that a coach in Nigeria once asked him to dunk and demonstrated while standing on a chair. Olajuwon then tried to stand on the chair himself. When redirected by staff not to use the chair, Hakeem could initially not dunk the basketball.
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. Similarly, 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.
The Rockets had immediate success during Olajuwon’s rookie season, as their win-loss record improved from 29–53 in 1983–84 to 48–34 in 1984–85. Moreover, 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. Moreover, 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 (since 1985–86). The Rockets finished 51–31, and advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they faced the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets won the series fairly easily, four games to one, shocking the sports world and landing Olajuwon on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Similarly, Olajuwon scored 75 points in victories in games three and four, and after the series Lakers coach Pat Riley remarked “We tried everything. We put four bodies on him. We helped from different angles. He’s just a great player.” The Rockets advanced to the 1986 NBA Finals where they lost in six games to the Boston Celtics, whose 1986 team is often considered one of the best teams in NBA history.
National team career
In 1980, before arriving in the US, Olajuwon played for a Nigerian junior team in the All-Africa Games. This created some problems when he tried to play for the United States men’s national basketball team initially. FIBA rules prohibit players from representing more than one country in international competition, and players must go through a three-year waiting period for any nationality change. Olajuwon was ineligible for selection to the “Dream Team” as he hadn’t become a US citizen.
Olajuwon became a naturalized American citizen on April 2, 1993. For the 1996 Olympics, he received a FIBA exemption and was eligible to play for Dream Team II. The team went on to win the gold medal in Atlanta. During the tournament, he shared his minutes with Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson. He played 7 out of the 8 games and started 2. He averaged 5 points and 3.1 rebounds and had 8 assists and 6 steals in seven games.
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. Moreover, 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. Similarly, 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.
Olajuwon tied a knot his current wife, Dalia Asafi, on August 8, 1996, in Houston. They have two daughters, Rahmah and Aisha Olajuwon. Abisola Olajuwon, his daughter with Lita Spencer, whom he met in college, represented the West Girls in the McDonald’s All-American Game and played in the WNBA.
In addition to English, Olajuwon is fluent in French, Arabic, and the Nigerian languages of Yoruba and Ekiti. Further, he wrote his autobiography, Living the Dream, with co-author Peter Knobler in 1996. During his 18-year NBA career, Olajuwon earned more than $107 million in salary.
Olajuwon played for 20 consecutive seasons in Houston, first collegiately for the University of Houston Cougars and then professionally with the Houston Rockets. He is considered a Houston icon and one of city’s most beloved citizens. Similarly, Olajuwon has had great success in the Houston real estate market, with his estimated profits exceeding $100 million. He buys in cash-only purchases, as it is against Islamic law to pay interest. Olajuwon splits his time between Jordan, where he moved with his family to pursue Islamic studies, and his ranch near Houston.
In the 2006 NBA offseason, Olajuwon opened his first Big Man Camp, where he teaches young frontcourt players the finer points of playing in the post. While Olajuwon never expressed an interest in coaching a team, he wishes to give back to the game by helping younger players. When asked whether the league was becoming more guard-oriented and big men were being de-emphasized, Olajuwon responded, “For a big man who is just big, maybe. But not if you play with speed, with agility.
- Full Name: Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon
- Date of Birth: January 21, 1963
- Age: 57
- Birth Place: Lagos, Nigeria
- Nationality: Nigerian / American
- Listed height: 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m)
- Listed weight: 255 lb (116 kg)
- College: Houston (since 1981–1984)
- NBA draft: since 1984 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall
- Selected by the Houston Rockets
- Playing career: since 1984–2002
- Position: Center
- Number: 34
- Spouse: Dalia Asafi (m since 1996)
- Net Worth: $200 million
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