Childhood & Early Life
Hakeem Olajuwon was born Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon, in Lagos, Nigeria, on January 21, 1963, to Salim and Abike Olajuwon. His was an upper middle-class family that owned a cement business. He was the third of the eight children in the family and studied in some of the top schools of Lagos.
He hates the stereotypical representation of his childhood, which is depicted to be full of struggles and hardships by the media. Hakeem has often claimed that he lived and studied in a good environment that had children from different ethnicities. He also added that his parents taught him the value of working hard and respecting elders.
During the first few years of his life, Hakeem had not even touched a basketball. He played football as a goalkeeper. It was the most popular sport in Nigeria at that time. He played basketball for the first time at the age of 15, while he was studying at the ‘Muslim Teachers College’ in Lagos. However, the transition to basketball from football was not difficult, as both sports required skilled footwork and hand–eye coordination.
He never went back to football once he started playing basketball. By the time he was 17 years old, he had become an extremely competent player and had played in a number of local tournaments. He also continued his studies along with the game.
However, Nigeria did not have too many opportunities for basketball players or for those wished to pursue higher studies. Thus, Hakeem moved to Houston, US, to study at the ‘Houston University.’ There, he immediately joined the college basketball team.
Following an exceptional performance as part of the college team, he became one of the top contenders for the ‘NBA Draft.’ He played for the ‘Houston Cougars’ and led them to three ‘National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Final Four’ appearances. In the 1983–1984 season, he topped the ‘NCAA,’ which then opened ways for him to enter the ‘NBA’ scene. He was the first pick by the ‘Houston Rockets’ in the 1984 ‘NBA Draft.’
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As soon as he entered the ‘NBA,’ Hakeem became a star on the team. With an astonishing height of 7 feet, he proved that he was the best pick for the ‘Houston Rockets’ that season. In his rookie ‘NBA’ season, Hakeem averaged 20.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.68 blocks per game. He teamed up with Ralph Sampson, who was a few inches taller than him. They were playfully called the “Twin Towers.”
In his debut season, he was named the runner-up to the ‘Rookie of the Year,’ ranking only behind basketball legend Michael Jordan. Incidentally, Hakeem was the only other rookie that year who received any votes.
Hakeem’s second season with the ‘Rockets’ was even more successful, as he averaged 23.5 points per game, along with 11.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. He also played a significant role in his team winning the ‘Western Conference’ finals against the ‘Los Angeles Lakers.’ His stunning performance landed him a space on the cover of the popular magazine ‘Sports Illustrated.’
By the 1987–1988 season, Hakeem had become the undisputed favorite on the team, as Sampson had left the team by then due to a knee injury. With 13.5 rebounds per game, Hakeem was named the league leader in rebounds.
Both he and his team performed brilliantly during the 1993–1994 season and in the following ‘NBA’ season. He performed better than any other center in any other ‘NBA’ team and registered himself as one of the best centers in the history of the ‘NBA’. He led his team to win the ‘NBA Championships’ in 1994 and 1995.
He became highly famous for his signature move, known as the “Dream Shake,” in which he would fake moves and spin in an unusual way. He was also regarded by many ‘NBA’ legends as a master player. This was mostly due to the fact that despite being an extremely tall player, his footwork and his speed were exceptional.
During the 1994 season, Hakeem was at the top of his game and made several records. He became the first player in the history of the ‘NBA’ to be named the ‘MVP,’ the “Finals MVP,’ and the ‘Defensive Player of the Season,’ all in the same season.
However, after this brilliant phase of his career, Hakeem’s performance dipped a little, and that cost him his place on the team. While suffering from continuous injuries and illnesses, Hakeem was traded to the ‘Toronto Raptors’ in the 2001 season and performed poorly, hitting an all-time low in his career. He finally announced his retirement from the game in the middle of the 2002 season.
However, despite a low time at the end of his career, Hakeem had enough achievements to his name, which led him to become an inductee in the ‘Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’ in 2008. Throughout his illustrious career, he was named to the ‘All-Star’ team 12 times. He was named the ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ twice, the ‘NBA MVP’ once, and the ‘NBA Finals MVP’ twice.
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Before making a name for himself in the US basketball scene, Hakeem had played for the junior Nigerian team. When he tried entering the American national team in the 1980s, he was not allowed to play for the country because of some issues related to citizenship laws. He got his official American citizenship in 1993. Following this, he was named to the US national basketball team.
He played a key role in the 1996 ‘Olympic Games’ and helped the American national basketball team win the gold medal.
Hakeem is revered as an icon in Houston and is extremely loved by the people of the city. Following his highly successful stint with the ‘NBA,’ he has had an equally successful career in the real-estate arena. He did not show any interest in coaching any team, but he regularly shares tips with young players.
He was inducted into the ‘FIBA Hall of Fame’ in 2016.
Family & Personal Life
On August 8, 1996, Hakeem Olajuwon married Dalia Asafi in Houston. The couple has two daughters: Rahmah and Aisha Olajuwon. He also had a girlfriend in college named Lita Spencer, with whom he had a daughter named Abisola Olajuwon.
Hakeem has written an autobiography titled ‘Living the Dream.’
He is multilingual and speaks French, Arabic, Yoruba, and Ekiti, apart from English.
Hakeem is a highly devoted Muslim. His name, “Hakeem,” means “doctor,” or “wise man,” in Arabic. He once stated that his name was misspelled by many as “Akeem,” after he moved to the US. He thus formally changed his name from “Akeem” to “Hakeem” in 1991, saying “Hakeem” was the original spelling of his name. Over the years, he became more attached to his religion. He often read the ‘Qur’an’ in planes, at home, and even before and after games.
He endorsed a line of low-priced shoes made by ‘Spalding,’ known as ‘The Dream.’ He once said that the reason he did not endorse high-end brands such as ‘Nike’ or ‘Adidas’ was because poor children would not be able to afford such highly priced shoes, which meant they would have to steal or kill for those shoes.