Full Name: Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon
Born: 1/21/63 in Lagos, Nigeria
Height: 7-0; Weight: 255 lbs.
High School: Muslim Teachers College (Lagos, Nigeria)
Drafted by: Houston Rockets (1984)
Transactions: Traded to Toronto, 8/2/01
During his 18-year career, Nigeria-born Hakeem Olajuwon staked his claim as one of the greatest players in NBA history. Long considered a physical marvel since his days at the University of Houston, his aesthetic and productive play—highlighted by his Houston Rockets’ back-to-back NBA titles—earned him a place among the game’s best.
In 1993-94 he had a storybook season, becoming the first player to be named NBA MVP, NBA Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Finals MVP in the same season. The following season he rallied the Rockets from a sixth seed in the playoffs to their second straight NBA crown, making Houston the fifth NBA franchise ever to win back-to-back titles.
Olajuwon was the third of six children and acquired the basic values that pushed him to succeed from his parents, who were middle-class and owned a cement business in Lagos, Nigeria.
“They taught us to be honest, work hard, respect our elders, believe in ourselves,” the NBA great has said.
Olajuwon, which translates into “always being on top,” began playing basketball at the late age of 15. Olajuwon’s high school, the Muslim Teachers College, was an entry in the basketball tournament at the All-Nigeria Teachers Sports Festival in Sokoto—but Olajuwon was on the handball team. A fellow student approached the coach and asked if Olajuwon could play for the team. Permission was granted and a basketball superstar was born.
Two years later he enrolled at the University of Houston under the name of Akeem Abdul Olajuwon. He dropped references to “Abdul” prior to entering the NBA and officially adopted “Hakeem” on March 9, 1991. To paraphrase Shakespeare; a great basketball player by any other name is still a great basketball player.
Although his athletic career began as a soccer goalkeeper and handball player, which ultimately helped give him the footwork and agility to balance his overpowering strength and size in basketball, he quickly became a dominating player at Houston. He played three seasons at Houston and help push the Cougars into the Final Four each year.
In 1982, Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were on a Houston squad that made it to the NCAA semifinals but lost 68-63 to the North Carolina Tar Heels, led by James Worthy and Michael Jordan. The next year in the semifinals, the Cougars—by this time known as “Phi Slamma Jamma” for their above-the-rim play—soared above an equally athletic Louisville squad 94-81 in perhaps the most exciting end-to-end, high-flying act the NCAA Final Four has ever seen. However, the Cougars were upset 54-52 in a thrilling championship game on a shot at the buzzer by North Carolina State, an overwhelming underdog.
In 1983-84, Olajuwon averaged 16.8 points and led the NCAA in rebounding (13.5 rpg), blocked shots (5.6 per game) and field-goal percentage (.675). He was a First Team All-America selection that season, but Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas defeated Olajuwon’s Cougars 84-75 in the championship game.
After the Rockets won a coin flip with the Portland Trail Blazers for the first pick in the 1984 NBA Draft—one year before the institution of the Draft Lottery—Houston selected Olajuwon. Although the talented Jordan was also available (he would be picked third by the Chicago Bulls), almost all in the basketball world thought Olujawon was the correct selection at No. 1.