Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon

Andy Jay

Written by: Andy Jay


Read Time: 3 minutes

Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon, nicknamed “The Dream”, is a Nigerian-American professional basketball who played in the NBA between 1984 and 2002. He is widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest basketball players. He played as a center for the Houston Rockets (1984-2001) and Toronto Raptors (2001-2002) and earned plaudits for his defensive prowess and an unusual offensive skill set for a big man (7 ft 0, 255 lb). He racked up impressive stats too, winning the NBA championship, the League’s MVP, Finals MVP, and NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards multiple times during his time in Houston.

Early Career

Born in Nigeria, Lagos, Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon was initially a soccer goalkeeper and only played basketball for the first time at the age of 15. He then emigrated to the United States to study at the University of Houston, where he formerly started his basketball playing career. He trained with Moses Malone, a former NBA player and resident of Houston, and went on to guide his team, the Cougars, to two consecutive NCAA championship in his sophomore and junior years while also winning the NCAA Tournament Player of the Year award in 1983. In the next year,1984, he declared early for the NBA draft, joining other top amateur prospects, including future NBA stars Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. He was drafted first by the Houston Rockets.

NBA Career

Hakeem’s rookie years were as spectacular as his college years, helping the Rockets improve from a 29–53 win-loss record in 1983–84 to 48–34 in his first rookie season. He also came second in Rookie of the Year voting in his first season, losing out to eventual winner Michael Jordan. He and Ralph Sampson, the 1983–84 Rookie of the Year, teamed up to form a formidable duo that saw the Rockets advance to the NBA Finals in 1986 just two years after his arrival in Houston, only to lose out to the impressive Boston Celtics. After Sampson’s injury struggles and eventual trade to the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets title chances slumped but Hakeem continued to post exceptional numbers both in the regular season and the playoffs.

His championship-winning years came in the 1993–94 and 1994–95 seasons. In the former, Olajuwon’s Rockets saw off the New York Knicks 4-3 in the NBA playoff finals. This year, 1993–94, was also the pinnacle of his career as he went on record 26.9 points, 3.6 assists, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks in the post-season en route to winning the championship. He also won NBA Most Valuable Player, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player awards, becoming the first player to do so in the NBA. In the 1994–95 Season Finals, Olajuwon’s Rockets saw of Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic to get his second championship ring and receive his second Finals MVP crown.

Career achievements and Records

Hakeem Olajuwon has achieved many accolades in his decorated 18 years in the NBA. He is a Hall of Famer and has already been inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame (2016) and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2008). He has two NBA championship rings (1994 &1995), one NBA championship MVP award (1994), two NBA finals MVP awards (1994 &1995), and two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards (1993&1994). He is also a 12-time NBA All-Star, has made the NBA All-Defensive Team 9 times and was a gold medalist with Team USA in the 1996 Olympics. He has also achieved a ton of career milestones from being the first non-American born MVP winner, being among the elite class of players to have recorded a quadruple-double to being the first to win the MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the year awards in the same season.

Playing Style

Hakeem Olajuwon was a player with an unusual offensive skill set for a big man, a trait that made him dominate the basketball front court. He had perfected the art of fake and spin moves that he used to shake off opponents with, allowing him to make many uncontested shots. This was known as the “Dream Shake” and has gone on to influence how big men play in the NBA while also establishing his long-standing nickname, “The Dream”. He has credited his young soccer years for this lethal dose of footwork, strength and agile body control.

His nimble footwork coupled with his deft shooting made him a prolific scorer (21.8 points per game career average) while also returning an above-average offensive rebound number (3.3 offensive boards per game). He also made his name as a tenacious defensive player (3.09 blocks and 1.75 steals, career average) and an outstanding rebounder (11.1 rebounds per game, career average) and is widely considered as one of the best defensive basketball star to ever grace the game.