One of the most dominant centers of all-time Hakeem Olajuwon always had the city of Houston written all over his famous worldwide name.
First, he led the University of Houston Cougars to consecutive NCAA final games in 1983 and 1984. Even though he played for the losing team, he won the 1983 NCAA Tournament player of the year award.
Secondly, after being selected as the #1 overall pick in 1984 NBA draft, it was the Little Moses who led the Houston Rockets to the pair of their first NBA championship titles ever (1994, 1995). In the process, 1993-94, MVP and Defensive Player of the year completely outplayed all of the most dominant ‘big man’ of that era – Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal!
Although the Rockets championship roster was mostly dissolved by the 1996-97 NBA season, it seemed that the 1996 Dream team member would stay in Houston until the very end of his respected NBA career.
But, in a strange turn of destiny, in the summer of 2001, Olajuwon turned down 13 million deal with the Rockets, and contract negotiations broke down. On August 2nd, 2001, Olajuwon was TRADED to Toronto!
“Hakeem’s decision is disappointing for the entire Rockets organization. Hakeem Olajuwon has meant more to this franchise and this city than any other athlete in Houston history.” – Les Alexander, Houston Rockets owner
Even more surprisingly, he was traded for a pair of future draft picks – 2002 1st round draft pick (Bostjan Nachbar was later selected) and 2002 2nd round draft pick (Tito Maddox was later selected). The Raptors, led by a superstar Vince Carter, were one of the most exciting and promising teams in the NBA. They could have been a player or two away from becoming a legit contender!
It seemed that the addition of experienced inside force in Hakeem Olajuwon, who was a 12-time All-Star in Houston, would help the Raps grow and mature while boosting their chances in the postseason. But surprisingly, it turned out that 18-year of Olajuwon’s stellar NBA career was by far his worst one!
North of the border The Dream appeared in a total of 61 games. He started 37 of those, posting career-low averages of 7.1 points, 6.0 boards, and 1.5 blocks while playing 22.6 minutes per contest.
“It was a gamble, and I think we lost on it. It didn’t turn out the way we had hoped.” – Glen Grunwald, Toronto Raptors GM
His best game of the season came on November 20th, 2001 vs. the Pistons when he reminded the fans in the Air Canada Center of his younger self by scoring 14 points, grabbing 20 boards and rejecting five shots! But, it would be that same Pistons who edged the Raptors in the 1st round of 2002 NBA play-off. Game 5 of that series was the last game of Olajuwon’s NBA career, and he contributed 8 points and four boards.
The NBA all-time leader in total blocked shots reported a severe back injury and thus wasn’t able to complete the remaining two years on his 3Y/18M contract with the Raptors.
“I don’t look at this as the end, and it is the beginning of the next phase of my life. You know what you accomplished over the years, and now it is time to sit and watch.” – Hakeem Olajuwon
He retired in the fall of 2002. The Rockets retired his uniform with the legendary #34 shortly after.
Basketball Network contributor Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is the 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist, proud author of the Amazon.com TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’.