When Hakeem chose Houston over New York

When Hakeem chose Houston over New York

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 played many sports as a kid, soccer (the most popular sport in Nigeria), handball, table tennis and he only got 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 can 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.

Guy Lewis was the head coach at the University of Houston, and he had a previous relationship with Christopher Pond. He had called him in the past talking about 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 will pick him up and he should get a cab.

When they saw the 6’10” Hakeem get out of the cab, they realized Pond was right on his promises, and they have 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 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.

He had a fantastic coach in Guy Lewis, and in the summer he played in a local rec center against Moses Malone, at the time 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 can expect in the NBA. It was hard at first, and he even considered quitting basketball, but Moses motivated and mentored him to success.

Sometimes, you just gotta be lucky.