Hakeem Olajuwon was easily one of the best centers in the mid-80s to the 90s. One would assume that The Dream got the money bag during his prime. But the reality is, the Houston Rockets were hesitant to pay Olajuwon the big bucks. In fact, they were only willing to increase his salary if certain conditions — that were out of Olajuwon's control — were met.
In 1992, Olajuwon tried negotiating a $15 million salary for the 1994-1995 season. He wanted to be on par with the top centers in the league, like New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing who was making about $9 million a year. Prior to 1992, Olajuwon was making a mere $3 million a year, which meant he was grossly underpaid as he was the team's franchise star.
Details reveal that Olajuwon's contract had a strange clause: he was not allowed to renegotiate a contract before 1995. If he did, the Dream would lose $6 million. Olajuwon pressured the Rockets to either trade him or renegotiate his contract by faking injuries. Rockets general manager Steve Patterson ultimately suspended Olajuwon for a few games. Then, he addressed the elephant in the room: will Hakeem ever get a raise or at least a chance to discuss a new contract?
"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to put two and two together and see what's going on here. If we met his demands, we'd have to triple our ticket prices. What he's asking for is more than our entire team payroll," Patterson said, per The Seattle Times.
While Patterson's prerequisites seemingly make sense from a business perspective, it isn't player-friendly at all. Apart from this, Patterson put up another provision aimed at guilt-tripping Olajuwon. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
"Patterson pleaded his case on national TV, invoking the plight of the little people--such as the equipment manager who would lose a playoff share worth 25% of his income--so fat cat Hakeem could get a raise."
If Patterson were to make his comments today, players would go on a strike, and the NBA season would be put on hold. It's interesting how things have evolved in a matter of 30 years.
Hakeem finally gets his money bag
The tiff between Hakeem and the Rockets went back and forth. Both parties threw potshots at one another. In the end, the Rockets organization got their wish. They kept Hakeem in the 1992-93 NBA season sans a brand new contract.
Today, if players do not get their wish, they would sit out for an indefinite period. This wasn't the case for Hakeem. Instead of continuing to act like a spoiled child, he played the best basketball of his life. In the 1992-93 season, he averaged a new career-high 26.1 points per game. He was also crowned Defensive Player of the Year, guiding the Rockets to a 55-27 record.
Olajuwon finally got his wish. The Rockets awarded him with a four-year extension worth $30 million. After a new owner stepped in, general manager Steve Patterson was sacked. In the 1993-94 NBA season, the Rockets won the NBA Championship. They did it again the following year, forever forging Olajuwon in history as one of the best to do it.