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Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon, famous for his foot speed, spinning moves, fade away jump shot and his knee and elbow pads that he almost ever wore, was the biggest Rocket of Houston.

The city of Houston embraced him like no one else and he felt so eternally blessed for that.

He’ll forever stand as one of the 5 best basketball centers we’ll ever see (Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Shaquille O’neal). The word “Olajuwon” is a Yoruban word, meaning “always being on top”.

It’s really weird, but when you think about it, it’s not so weird, that he never touched a basketball until he was 15 years old. So for those of you who started later in this game, don’t forget, there’s always a hope:) But I say, when you think about it it’s not so weird because he was already good in table tennis, soccer and handball.

That gave him the uncanny agility on the basketball court and helped him develop his unique style of playing. Plus the fact that he was extremely disciplined thanks to his Muslim beliefs.

He had tremendous work ethics and was dedicated to the game. During Ramadan, he’d get up at 5:00 a.m. and have breakfast and fast for the rest of the day. No water, no Gatorade, nothing.

It’s amazing to think just how physically ready he was and the shape he was in. And from 5:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. he was devoted to basketball, often times in the gym and that didn’t affect him a bit.

In Nigeria, the place where he was born, basketball was not very common. When he came to the University of Houston, he was a raw talent, yet to be developed. He could play some defense because of his frame but had no offensive moves whatsoever.

And very rapidly, he became like a sponge and absorbed every advice every one gave him. Prior to entering the NBA, he worked with another great center. Moses Malone.

After just a few years Hakeem Olajuwon was believe it or not, the first pick in the 1984 NBA draft. The very same draft when Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton were picked. In Houston, he quickly developed his dazzling move called the “Dream Shake” (fadeaway jump shot, delivered on the heels of a spin move) and eventually he was nicknamed “The Dream”.

Together with Ralph Sampson, they were called the “Twin Towers”. The people in Houston thought that with that dynamic duo they’d win 10 consecutive NBA titles. But that didn’t happen. Ralph went to Golden State Warriors and Hakeem “The Dream” was the ultimate leader.

His real name was Akeem but in 1991 he added the letter “H” and became Hakeem.

His biggest accomplishments are the two NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. Hakeem Olajuwon is the only player in the history to have more than 2000 blocks and 2000 steals. He’s the only player to win Defensive Player of the Year award, regular season MVP, and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in the same year.

That happened in 1994. In 1992 he couldn’t play for the USA Olympic team because he wasn’t an American citizen but in 1996 he did play and won the gold metal in Atlanta.

In the last few years of his career, leg injuries prevented him from playing at his full potential. He finished his career in the Toronto Raptors in 2001 and had his 34# jersey retired in Houston.

It was very rare when he didn’t deliver a great game. His teammates remember him as a smiling guy who likes to have fun outside the court. But in game time, he was completely different character. He was focused, consistent competitor who was used to winning.

Mario Elie clearly remembers when they were down 3-2 with the Knicks in the 1994 NBA finals. Mario was so upset, frustrated, disappointed, call it what you want, he was pissed off. As he was walking to his hotel room he met Hakeem and he saw him so relaxed and smiling.

Mario got little confused and Hakeem said to him. “Don’t worry about it, we’re going home”. Mario didn’t know that to do, except to smile back. In game six, Hakeem Olajuwon blocked John Starks crucial shot and as they went on in game 7, they won their first NBA title.


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