Born on January 21, 1963, in Lagos, Nigeria, Hakeem Olajuwon overcame a late introduction to basketball to star at the University of Houston. The cornerstone of the Houston Rockets for 17 of his 18 NBA seasons, "The Dream" led the Rockets to back-to-back championships with his scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. He was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
From Nigeria to Houston
Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon was born on January 21, 1963, in Lagos, Nigeria.
Amazingly, the future NBA legend didn't play basketball until he was a 15-year-old student at the Muslim Teachers College in Lagos, though he easily adapted with his coordination honed from playing soccer and handball.
Olajuwon emigrated to the United States to play basketball at the University of Houston. Mistakenly enrolled as "Akeem" but appropriately nicknamed "The Dream" for his eye-opening skills, Olajuwon teamed with future NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler on the high-flying "Phi Slamma Jamma" squads, leading the Cougars to three NCAA Final Four appearances.
After the 1983-84 season, in which he topped the NCAA with 13.5 rebounds per game, 5.6 blocked shots per game and a 67.5 percent field-goal percentage, Olajuwon was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 1984 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets.
Olajuwon was an instant star in the NBA, displaying stunning quickness and agility en route to 20.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game as a rookie center. Listed at an even 7 feet (though he was closer to 6'10"), he formed one half of Houston's formidable "Twin Towers" duo with 7'4" Ralph Sampson.
The promise of the Twin Towers faded with Sampson's deteriorating knees, and an increasingly frustrated Olajuwon found himself putting up big numbers for mediocre teams. He became the first player in NBA history to record at least 200 steals and 200 blocks in a season during 1988-89, and led the league with 14 rebounds and a staggering 4.6 blocks per game the following year, though the Rockets fizzled early in the playoffs in both seasons.
Olajuwon reaffirmed the traditional spelling of his first name as "Hakeem" in 1991, a change that coincided with his seeming maturity as a player and leader on the court. He became a more active passer and perfected his "Dream Shake," a series of fakes that left opposing defenders helpless.
During the 1993-94 season, Olajuwon averaged 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game, and the Rockets outlasted the New York Knicks in an exhausting seven-game series to win the NBA championship. It truly was a dream year for "The Dream," who became the first player in NBA history to win the Most Valuable Player, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.
The following year, the Rockets received a midseason boost by trading for Drexler, Olajuwon's former college teammate, and went on to claim their second straight NBA crown. Olajuwon averaged a career-best 27.8 points per game, and again was named Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP.
Having secured his U.S. citizenship, Olajuwon won a gold medal with the 1996 U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball Team. Soon afterward, he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History as part of a campaign to mark the league's 50-year anniversary. However, after one more typically huge season, his performance on the court began to taper.
Olajuwon retired after spending the 2001-02 season with the Toronto Raptors. Over the course of his 18-year career, he was named to the All-NBA First Team six times, and to the NBA All-Defensive First Team five times. He finished with impressive averages of 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, and a record 3,830 total blocks.
A Dream Retirement
After leaving the hardwood, Olajuwon reinvented himself as a successful real-estate dealer in Houston and became a coveted instructor for NBA players seeking to improve their moves around the basket.
When not tending to business in Houston, Olajuwon spends his time with his family at a home in Jordan, where he studies the Koran.
Olajuwon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, a fitting coda to the career of one of the game's all-time greats.
We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!