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Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon (born on January 21, 1963) is a retired Nigerian American professional basketball player. From 1984 to 2002, he played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the Houston Rockets and 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 Famemarker.

Born in Lagos, Nigeriamarker, Olajuwon traveled from his home country to play for the University of Houstonmarker. Under Coach Guy Lewis he had a standout career for the Cougars alongside future NBA Hall of Fame player Clyde Drexler, which included three trips to the Final Four. Olajuwon was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the first overall selection of the 1984 NBA Draft, a draft that included Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton. Olajuwon joined the Houston Rockets and was affectionately known as "Hakeem The Dream" for his grace on and off the court. He combined with the 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m) Ralph Sampson to form a duo dubbed the "Twin Towers". The two led the Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals, where they lost in six games to the Boston Celtics.

After Sampson was traded to the Golden State Warriors in 1988, Olajuwon became the Rockets' undisputed leader. He led the league in rebounding twice (1989, 1990) and shot-blocking three times (1990, 1991, 1993). In the 1993-94 season he became the only player in NBA history to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP), Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards in the same season. His Rockets won back-to-back championships against the New York Knicks, avenging his college championship loss to Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O'Neal's Orlando Magic. In 1996 Olajuwon was a member of the Olympic gold-medal-winning United States national team, and was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He ended his career as the league's all-time leader in blocked shots. Olajuwon is also the only NBA player ever to end his career in Top 10 for blocks (1st all-time) and steals (8th all-time).

Listed at 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m) but closer to 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) by his own admission, Olajuwon is generally considered one of the greatest centers ever to play the game.Heisler. Pg. 3
*Ruley, Clayton. Top Five Centers in NBA History,, accessed January 3, 2007. Olajuwon is also a devout Muslim who observed Ramadan fasting throughout his NBA career.

During his 18-year NBA career, Olajuwon earned more than $99,000,000 in salary.

Early life

Olajuwon was born to Salim and Abike Olajuwon, middle-class Yoruba owners of a cement business in Lagosmarker, Nigeriamarker. He was the third of six 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, believe in ourselves". 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 15, when he entered a local tournament. However, he quickly became taken with the game. Olajuwon states, "Basketball is something that is so unique. That immediately I pick up the game and, you know, realize that this is the sport for me. All the other sports just become secondary."

Basketball career

University of Houston and "Phi Slama Jama"

Olajuwon emigrated from Nigeria to play basketball at the University of Houstonmarker 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. He later recalled that when he originally arrived at the airport in 1980 for the visit, no representative of the university was there to greet him. When he called the staff, they told him to take a taxi out to the university. While there, he and his teammates (including Clyde Drexler) formed what was dubbed "Phi Slama Jama", the first slam-dunking "fraternity", so named because of its above-the-rim prowess.
After redshirting his freshman year in 1980-81, Olajuwon played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 1981–82, and the Cougars were eliminated in the Final Four by the eventual NCAA champion, North Carolina Tar Heels. Olajuwon sought advice from the coaching staff about how to increase his playing time, and they advised him to work out with local Houston resident and multiple NBA MVP winner, Moses Malone. Malone, who was then a member of the NBA's Houston Rockets, played games every off season with several NBA players at the Fonde Recreation Center. Olajuwon joined the workouts and went head to head with Malone in several games throughout the summer. Olajuwon credited this experience with rapidly improving his game, saying, "...when you play against a guy like Moses it can't help but make you better."

Olajuwon returned from that summer a different player, and in his sophomore and junior years he helped the Cougars advance to consecutive NCAA championship games, where they lost to North Carolina Statemarker in 1983 and a Patrick Ewing-led Georgetownmarker team in 1984. Olajuwon won the 1983 NCAA Tournament Player of the Year award, even though he played for the losing team in the final game. He is, to date, the last player from a losing side to be granted this honor. Drexler departed for the NBA in 1983, leaving Olajuwon the lone star on the team.

After the 1983–84 season, Olajuwon debated whether to stay in college or declare early for the NBA draft. At that time (before the NBA Draft Lottery was introduced in 1985), the first pick was awarded by coin flip. Olajuwon recalled: "I really believed that Houston was going to win the coin flip and pick the number 1 draft choice, and I really wanted to play in Houston so I had to make that decision (to leave early)." His intuition proved correct, and a lucky toss placed Houston ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers. Olajuwon was considered the top amateur prospect in the summer of 1984 over fellow collegians and future NBA stars Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, and was selected first overall by the Rockets in the 1984 NBA Draft.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets had immediate success during Olajuwon's rookie season, as their win-loss record improved from 29–53 in the 1983-84 NBA season to 48–34 in 1984-85. 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. 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 (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. The Rockets then advanced to the 1986 NBA Finals where they succumbed in six games to the Boston Celtics, whose 1986 team is often considered one of the best teams in NBA history.


During the 1987-88 NBA season, Sampson (who was struggling with knee injuries that would eventually end his career prematurely) was traded to the Golden State Warriors. The 1988-89 season was Olajuwon's first full season as the Rockets' undisputed leader. This change also coincided with the hiring of new coach Don Chaney. The Rockets ended the regular season with a record of 45–37, and Olajuwon finished the season as the league leader in rebounds (13.5 per game) by a full rebound per game over Charles Barkley. This performance was consistent with his averages of 24.8 points and 3.4 blocks. Olajuwon posted exceptional playoff numbers of 37.5 ppg and 16.8 rpg, plus a record for points in a four-game playoff series (150). Nevertheless, the Rockets were eliminated in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks, 3 games to 1.

The 1989-90 season was a disappointment for the Rockets. They finished the season with a .500 record at 41–41, and though they made the playoffs, were eliminated in four games by the LA Lakers. Olajuwon put up one of the most productive defensive seasons by an interior player in the history of the NBA. He won the NBA rebounding crown (14.0 per game) again, this time by an even larger margin; a full two rebounds per game over David Robinson, and led the league in blocks by averaging 4.6 per game. He is the only player since the NBA started recording blocked shots in 1973-74 to average 14+ rebounds and 4.5+ blocked shots per game in the same season. In doing so he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton as the only players in NBA history to lead the league in rebounding and shot-blocking in the same season. Olajuwon also recorded a quadruple-double during the season, only the third player in NBA history to do so.

The Rockets finished the 1990-91 season with a record of 52–30 under NBA Coach of the Year Don Chaney. Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points per game in 1990-91, but due to an injury to his eyesocket caused by an elbow from Bill Cartwright, did not play in enough games (56) to qualify for the rebounding title. Otherwise he would have won it for a third consecutive year, averaging 13.8 a game (league leader Robinson averaged 13.0 rpg). He also averaged a league-leading 3.95 blocks per game. However, the Rockets were swept in the playoffs by the LA Lakers.

The 1991-92 season was a low point for the Rockets during Olajuwon's tenure. They finished 42–40, and missed the playoffs for the first time in Olajuwon's career. Despite his usual strong numbers, he could not lift his team out of mediocrity. Since making the Finals in 1986, the Rockets had made the playoffs five times, but their record in those playoff series was 1–5 and they were eliminated in the first round four times.

The Rockets began the 1992-93 season with a new sense of optimism after a full training camp under new coach Rudy Tomjanovich. Olajuwon set a new career high of 3.5 assists per game. This willingness to pass the ball increased his scoring, making it more difficult for opposing teams to double- and triple-team him. Olajuwon set a new career high with 26.1 points per game. The Rockets set a new franchise record with 55 wins, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, pushing the Seattle SuperSonics to a seventh game before losing in overtime, 103-100. In stark contrast to the previous year, the Rockets entered the 1993–94 season as a team on the rise. They had a good core of young players and tough veterans, with a leader in Olajuwon who was entering his prime.

Championship years

Olajuwon gained a reputation as a great clutch performer and also as one of the greatest centers of his generation based on his performances in the 1993–94 and 1994–95 seasons. He outplayed centers such as Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Dikembe Mutombo, and other defensive stalwarts such as Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone, and eventual teammate Charles Barkley. Many of his battles were with his fellow Texas-based rival David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs. In the 30 head–to–head match-ups during the seven seasons from the 1989 to 1996, when both Olajuwon and Robinson were in their prime, Olajuwon averaged 26.3 points per game, shooting 47.6% from the field, while Robinson averaged 22.1 and 46.8%.

The Rockets won the 1994 NBA Finals in a seven-game series against the New York Knicks, the team of one of Olajuwon's perennial rivals since his collegiate days, Patrick Ewing. After being down 2-1, the Knicks took a 3–2 lead into Game 6. The Rockets were defending an 86–84 lead when in the last second, Knicks guard John Starks (who had already scored 27 points) went up for a finals-winning three. Olajuwon pulled off one of the greatest clutch defensive plays of all time by blocking the shot as time expired. In Game 7, Olajuwon posted a game–high 25 points and 10 rebounds, which helped overpower the Knicks, bringing the first professional sports championships to Houstonmarker since the Houston Oilers won the American Football League championship in 1961. Olajuwon dominated Ewing in their head–to–head match-up, outscoring him in every game of the series and averaging 26.9 points per game on 50% shooting, compared to Ewing's 18.9 and 36.3%. For his efforts Olajuwon was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.

The starters on that championship team were Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith. Sam Cassell was sixth man.

Olajuwon was at the pinnacle of his career. In 1994 he became the only player in NBA history to win MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. He was the first foreign-born player to win the league's MVP award.

Despite a slow start by the team and erratic behavior by starting shooting guard Vernon Maxwell—which resulted in not only "Mad Max"'s exile from the team, but also Olajuwon's former University of Houstonmarker Phi Slama Jama teammate Clyde Drexler's acquisition in a mid-season trade with the Portland Trail Blazers—the Rockets repeated as champions in 1995. Olajuwon averaged 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game during the regular season. Olajuwon displayed perhaps the most impressive moments of his career during the playoffs. San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, recently crowned league MVP, was outplayed by Olajuwon in the Conference Finals. When asked later what a team could do to "solve" Olajuwon, Robinson told LIFE magazine: "Hakeem? You don't solve Hakeem." The Rockets won every road game that series. In the NBA Finals, the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic, who were led by a young Shaquille O'Neal. Olajuwon outscored O'Neal in every game, scoring more than 30 points in each and raising his regular-season rate by five while O'Neal's production dropped by one. Olajuwon was again named Finals MVP. He averaged 10.3 rebounds, 2.81 blocks and 33 points per game on .531 shooting. As in 1994, Olajuwon was the only Rockets All-Star.

Post-championship period

The Rockets' two-year championship run ended when they were eliminated in the second round of the 1996 NBA Playoffs by the eventual Western Conference Champion Seattle SuperSonics. Michael Jordan had returned from a 21-month hiatus in late 1995, and his Chicago Bulls dominated the league for the next three years (1996–98). The Bulls and Rockets never met in the NBA Playoffs. The Rockets posted a 57–win season in 1996-97 season when they added Charles Barkley to their roster. They started the season 21–2, but lost the Western Conference Finals in six games to the Utah Jazz. After averaging 26.9 and 23.2 points in 1995–96 and 1996–97 respectively, Olajuwon's point production dipped to 16.4 in 1997–98. After the Rockets lost in the first round in five games to the Jazz in 1998, Drexler retired. In 1998–99 the Rockets acquired veteran All-Star Scottie Pippen and finished 31–19 in the lockout-shortened regular season. Olajuwon's scoring production rose to 18.9 points per game, and he made his twelfth and final All-NBA Team. However, they lost in the first round again, this time to the Lakers. After the season, Pippen was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Olajuwon became a naturalized American citizen after the 1993 season, and was a member of the Dream Team 3, the famed U.S. men's basketball team that won the gold medal during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Toronto Raptors

Houston began to rebuild, bringing in young guards Cuttino Mobley and 2000 NBA co–Rookie of the Year Steve Francis. On August 2, 2001, Olajuwon was traded to the Toronto Raptors for draft picks (the highest of which was used by Houston to draft Bostjan Nachbar at #15 in the 2002 NBA Draft), where he played his final NBA season, averaging career lows of 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, before retiring. Olajuwon retired as the all–time league leader in total blocked shots with 3,830, although shot blocking did not become an official statistic until the 1973-74 NBA season. Shortly after his retirement, his #34 jersey was retired by the Rockets.

Player profile

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. 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. 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.

On offense, Olajuwon was famous for his deft shooting touch around the basket and his nimble footwork in the low post. With the ball, Hakeem displayed a vast array of fakes and spin moves, highlighted in his signature "Dream Shake" (see below). He was a prolific scorer, averaging 21.8 points per game for his career, and an above average offensive rebounder, averaging 3.3 offensive rebounds per game. Additionally, Olajuwon became a skilled dribbler with an ability to score in "face-up" situations like a perimeter player. He is one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double in the NBA.

Olajuwon was one of the NBA's greatest all-time playoff performers, regularly elevating his play in crucial games. He was twice named NBA Finals MVP, and he excelled in playoff matchups against the best centers of his era. During his 1994-95 back-to-back championship playoff run, Olajuwon led the Rockets to victory against teams featuring Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Shaquille O'Neal.

Dream Shake

"The best footwork I’ve ever seen from a big man"
:—Pete Newell
Olajuwon established himself as a great offensive player during his career, perfecting a set of fakes and spin moves that became known as his trademark Dream Shake. Executed with uncanny speed and power, they are still regarded as the pinnacle of "big man" footwork. Shaquille O'Neal stated: "Hakeem has five moves, then four countermoves -- that gives him 20 moves." The Dream Shake made Olajuwon nearly unguardable for most of his career, because "big men" were not quick enough and guards not strong enough to stop him. Olajuwon himself traced the move back to the soccer-playing days of his youth. "The Dream Shake was actually one of my soccer moves which I translated to basketball. It would accomplish one of three things: one, to misdirect the opponent and make him go the opposite way; two, to freeze the opponent and leave him devastated in his tracks; three, to shake off the opponent and giving him no chance to contest the shot."

The Dream Shake was extremely difficult to defend, much like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook. The Dream Shake's closest modern equivalent comes from Kevin Garnett, whose moves have less variety and include some perimeter action.

One standout Dream Shake came in Game 5 of the 1995 Western Conference playoff series at The Alamodome in San Antonio against rival David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs. With Robinson guarding him, Olajuwon crossed over from his right hand to his left, drove to the basket and faked a layup. Robinson, an excellent defender, kept up with Olajuwon and did not fall for the fake, remaining planted. Olajuwon spun counterclockwise and faked a jump shot. Robinson, who was voted Most Valuable Player that season, took the bait this time and jumped to block the shot. With Robinson in the air, Olajuwon performed an up-and-under move, scoring an easy basket.

Personal life

Olajuwon married his current wife Dalia Asafi on August 8, 1996 in Houston. They have two daughters, Rahmah and Aisha Olajuwon. Abisola Olajuwon, his daughter with former wife and college sweetheart Lita Spencer, represented the West Girls in the McDonald's All American Game and is currently on the women's basketball team at the University of Oklahomamarker.

In addition to English, Olajuwon is fluent in French, Arabic, and the Nigerian languages of Yoruba and Ekitimarker. "Olajuwon" translates to "always being on top" in Yoruba.

With co-author Peter Knobler, Olajuwon wrote his autobiography, Living the Dream, published in 1996.

Olajuwon, who endorsed a sneaker made by Spalding which retailed for $35, is one of the very few well-known players in any professional sport to endorse a sneaker not from Nikemarker, Reebok, Adidas, or other high-visibility retail brands. As Olajuwon declared: "How can a poor working mother with three boys buy Nikes or Reeboks that cost $120?...She can't. So kids steal these shoes from stores and from other kids. Sometimes they kill for them."

Muslim faith

In Olajuwon's college career and early years in the NBA, he was often undisciplined, talking back to officials, getting in minor fights with other players and amassing technical fouls. Later, Olajuwon took an active interest in spirituality, becoming a more devout Muslim. On March 9, 1991, he altered his name from Akeem to the proper Arabic spelling Hakeem, saying, "I'm not changing the spelling of my name, I'm correcting it". He later recalled, "I studied the Qur'an every day. At home, at the mosque...I would read it in airplanes, before games and after them. I was soaking up the faith and learning new meanings each time I turned a page. I didn't dabble in the faith, I gave myself over to it." Olajuwon was still recognized as one of the league's elite centers despite his strict observance of Ramadan (e.g., abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours for about a month), which occurred during virtually every season of his career. Olajuwon was noted as sometimes playing better during the month, and in 1995 he was named NBA Player of the Month in February, even though Ramadan began on February 1 of that year.

Post-NBA life

Olajuwon played for 20 consecutive seasons in the Houston area, first collegiately for the Houston Cougars and then the Rockets. He still maintains a home in the area, and is considered a local icon and one of Houston's most beloved athletes. 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. After the end of his career Olajuwon has spent most of his time in Jordanmarker, where he moved with his family to pursue Islamic studies. He returns once or twice a year to visit his friends and former teammates such as Sam Cassell and Robert Horry, whose careers he follows. He keeps in regular phone contact with former Cougars and Rockets teammate Clyde Drexler.

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. It will always be a big man's game if the big man plays the right way. On defense, the big man can rebound and block shots. On offense, he draws double-teams and creates opportunities. He can add so much, make it easier for the entire team." Olajuwon has worked with several NBA players, including power forward Emeka Okafor, of the New Orleans Hornets and center Yao Ming of the Rockets. Recently, in September 2009, he also worked with Kobe Bryant on the post moves and the Dream Shake. He also runs the camp for free.

Olajuwon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famemarker as a member of the class of 2008 on September 5, 2008. To this point, every member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list who is eligible has been inducted.


  • 2× NBA champion (1994, '95)
  • 2× NBA Finals MVP (1994, '95)
  • 1× NBA MVP (1994)
  • 2× Defensive Player of Year (1993, '94)
  • 6× All-NBA First Team (1987, '88, '89, '93, '94, '97)
  • 3× All-NBA Second Team ('86, '90, '96)
  • 3× All-NBA Third Team (1991, '95, '99)
  • 5× All-Defensive First Team ('87, '88, '90, '93, '94)
  • 12× All-Star
  • Olympic gold medalist (1996)
  • Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).
  • Only player in NBA history to have won MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season (1994).
  • One of the 4 players in NBA history to have ever recorded a quadruple-double.
  • Olajuwon also won the rebounding and blocked shots titles in 1989-90, becoming the third player ever (after Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton) to lead the league in both categories during the same season.
  • All-time leader in blocked shots. (note: the NBA did not keep statistics for blocked shots until the 1973-74 season)
  • Olajuwon is also in the top ten in blocks, scoring, rebounding, and steals. He is the only player in NBA history placed in the top ten for all four categories.
  • All-time NBA Playoffs leader in total blocks with 472 and blocks per game with 3.3 per game.
  • Olajuwon ranks 8th all-time in steals and is the highest ranked center. (note that steals were not recorded until the 1973-74 season)
  • In 1989, Olajuwon had 282 blocks and 218 steals, becoming the only NBA player to record over 200 blocks and 200 steals in a season.
  • Olajuwon is one of few players to record more than 200 blocks and 100 steals in a season. As the all-time leader in this feat, he did it for 11 seasons (consecutively from the 1985-86 season to the 1995-96 season). The next closest is David Robinson, who did it for 7 seasons.
  • Olajuwon has recorded an NBA record six five by five in his career.
  • Olajuwon was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famemarker as a member of the class of 2008.


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  • Harris, Othello, Nolte, Claire Elaine, and Kirsch, George B. Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States, Greenwood Press. 2000 ISBN 0313299110
  • Heisler, Mark. Big Men Who Shook the NBA. Triumph Books. 2003 ISBN 1572437669
  • Olajuwon, Hakeem with Knobler, Peter. Living the Dream: My Life and Basketball. Little, Brown and Company. 1996 ISBN 0-316-09427-7

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