NBA Legends: Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon
Thu, Dec 9, 2021
There are many greats in NBA history and, when looking at centers, Hakeem Olajuwon’s name often appears alongside legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. Today we’re looking at The Dream’s career, from his early life in Lagos to his nearly twenty years with the Houston Rockets and his Olympic gold medal-winning performance.
We’re also taking a look at a lot of his accolades too, such as being the first non-American to win an NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Knowing about great players like Hakeem, showing that greatness in the accolades they won and the records they set, can help you when next looking at NBA money lines.
Having been a goalkeeper during soccer games in his youth, Hakeem honed his footwork from an early age. He didn’t know it yet, but the agility he would get from playing soccer would help temper his large size in his future basketball career. Hakeem first tried his hand at basketball when he was 15 and still in Lagos, Nigeria. In Hakeem’s own words, when he started playing basketball “all the other sports just become obsolete.”
Pursuing his dream of playing basketball professionally, his ambitions took from him Nigeria to the University of Houston, Texas. There, he was accepted into the Houston Cougars basketball program. Frustrated at his early performance, Hakeem was directed to work out and train with Moses Malone of the Houston Rockets. At the time, Malone was considered one of the best centers in the NBA too, and Hakeem has credited him with his early successes.
When he returned to collegiate basketball the next summer, Hakeem made his dunks so effortlessly that it “looked like a dream” in the words of his coach. Just like that, he had the nickname that would follow him for his entire basketball career – The Dream. With his improvement, he won the NCAA Tournament Player of the Year award for 1983 despite being on the losing team. A losing team’s player hasn’t been given this award since.
From there, Hakeem declared himself for the NBA draft. It was a leap of faith since the team that got the first pick was awarded by a coin flip back then, so he was banking on the Houston Rockets getting the first pick. It flipped in his favor. The Rockets picked Hakeem in the summer of 1984, where Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were also up for grabs.
His First NBA Seasons
Unlike even some of the best NBA players in the world, Hakeem saw immediate success in his rookie season. The Houston Rockets’ win-loss record leaped from 29-53 to 48-34. While Rookie of the Year went to teammate Ralph Sampson, Hakeem was alongside him and they even worked as the original Twin Towers, before David Robinson and Tim Duncan ever came along.
In the second season, Hakeem helped the Rockets get to the 1986 NBA Finals. There was just one problem, however, being the Boston Celtics 1986 lineup. As one of the greatest teams in NBA history, they sent the Rockets home packing.
The Storybook Season
After becoming the most notable player in the Rockets after Sampson’s departure, and after experiencing some disappointments in the 1989-90 season, Hakeem was leading the NBA in average blocks per game at 4.6. This was a trend that would continue throughout his career, ending with him having the most blocks of any NBA player to date at 3,830.
Following injury and frustrations with the Rockets’ management, Hakeem would have his storybook season in 1993-1994. This was where Olajuwon led the Rockets to the NBA Finals again, this time without the Celtics to stand in their way. They beat the New York Knicks, led by Hakeem’s old college rival Patrick Ewing, and won the championship. This was where he also won MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year.
He found continued success in the 1994-1995 season, where the Rockets were bolstered after acquiring University of Houston alumni and Hakeem’s former Cougars teammate Clyde Drexler. Hitting the NBA Finals again, the pair went up against a younger Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic, and Olajuwon outcompeted him in every game by more than 30 points for another Finals MVP award.
Winning Olympic Gold
The Rockets wouldn’t see NBA Finals glory again, especially after Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls took center stage in the late 90s. What Olajuwon did see, however, was gold-medal glory at the Olympic games.
Having received his American citizenship in 1993, he played alongside former rivals Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson as part of the Dream Team II at the 1996 Olympic Games. Of the 8 games played, Hakeem was in 7 of them, started 2, and together they secured the gold.
The Raptors & Retirement
In 2001, Hakeem was traded to the Toronto Raptors after turning down a deal with the Rockets. He sustained a back injury and had registered career lows in the following season, so he decided to retire in 2002. The Rockets retired his #34 jersey, one of five retired numbers in Rockets history.