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When Hakeem chose Houston over New York

Hakeem had an interesting way of choosing which college he wanted to play for when he moved to the US
Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the best centers in NBA history. The Dream dominated the post and had footwork that is still considered to be the best. He played for the University of Houston and played for the Houston Rockets, and the reason why had nothing to do with the basketball program.

Hakeem immediately disliked New York

Hakeem played many sports as a kid, including soccer (the most popular sport in Nigeria), handball, and table tennis, and he was only introduced to basketball at the age of 17. He quickly picked up the game and was noticed by Christopher Pond, who was coaching the Central African team. He told Hakeem he should go to college in the United States and that he could make a few calls about scholarships. Hakeem had planned to visit five teams on his trip.

He landed in New York, and as he stepped out of the airport, he noticed two issues. The city seemed very frantic, and more importantly, it was freezing. Coming from Nigeria, this didn't work for him, so he canceled the visit to St. John's, immediately turned around, and went on a plane for his second stop, Houston. He was supposed to spend three days in New York, so there was no one waiting for him at the airport.

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Guy Lewis was the head coach at the University of Houston and had a previous relationship with Christopher Pond. He had called him in the past, talking about a 6'11" prospect who then turned out to be 6'5", so he was skeptical about this Olajuwon kid. The phone rang, and a voice on the other side of the line said, "Coach, it's me. I'm here." As Olajuwon wasn't supposed to be in Houston for three days, and Lewis expected to be disappointed, he told Hakeem no one would pick him up and that he should get a cab.

Houston reminded Hakeem of Lagos in Nigeria

When they saw the 6'10" Hakeem get out of the cab, they realized Pond was right on his promises, and they had a gem on their hands. Lucky for them, Houston, Texas, reminded that gem so much of Lagos, Nigeria, that he canceled all his other trips and decided to join their program. Coach Lewis was a great coach, but at that time, not having snow was their main advantage.

When you are a young kid from Nigeria and have no knowledge of the country you are going to, this kind of reasoning is all you can do. "The weather is nice, reminds me of home." Such a trivial reason had a significant impact on Hakeem and his career.

Training with Moses Malone

He had a fantastic coach in Guy Lewis, and in the summer, he played in a local rec center against Moses Malone, who was one of the best centers in the game. Hakeem talked about how vital Moses was as a mentor, someone who introduced him to the physicality he could expect in the NBA. It was hard at first, and he even considered quitting basketball, but Moses motivated and mentored him to succeed.

Sometimes, you just have to be lucky.

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