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Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (born January 21, 1963) was an NBA basketball player, now retired. His glory days were with the Houston Rockets, with a brief stint with the Toronto Raptors after that.

Olajuwon is arguably the best center ever, his name alongside those of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal as the best pivots in basketball history.

Olajuwon was born Akeem in Nigeria, but played college ball at the University of Houston, teaming with Clyde Drexler to form Phi Slamma Jamma. He was considered the top amateur prospect in the summer of 1984 over fellow collegians Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton, and was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets.

Olajuwon averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds his very first season, finishing as runner up to Jordan in the Rookie of the Year voting, as he was the only other rookie to garner votes. The Rockets had immediate success as Olajuwon teamed with the 1984 Rookie of the Year Ralph Sampson to form the original Twin Towers, taking Houston to the Finals in 1986 where they lost to Larry Bird and the Celtics. After losing Sampson first to injury and then to trade, Olajuwon's Rockets struggled, though he thrived individually, being named to the all-NBA first team in 1987, '88, '89, '93, '94 and '97. He also made the second and third team several times. Olajuwon also won the rebounding and block titles, becoming the third player ever (after Kareem and Bill Walton) to lead the league in both during the same season. He finished second in scoring in both '95 and '96. Hakeem also won defensive player of the year honors and an MVP in 1994.

He did eventually reach the promised land, leading the Rockets to the title in both 1994 and 1995, bringing the first pro sports championships in Houston history.

Olajuwon continued to lead the team throughout the late nineties, teaming with Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, and then Scottie Pippen, but no combination brought Houston a return to prominence. Houston then began a rebuilding effort, bringing in young guards Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis, the 2000 co-rookie of the year. Olajuwon retired as the all time leader in blocked shots, well past second place Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (however, the NBA did not keep statistics for blocked shots until Kareem had been in the league several years). He is also in the top ten in scoring, rebounding, and steals. He is the only player in NBA history in the top ten for all four categories. In 1997 he was named one of the top 50 players of all time.

Throughout Olajuwon's college career and early years in the NBA, he was often an undisciplined player, talking back to officials, getting in minor fights with other players, and amassing personal fouls. However, Olajuwon began exploring his spiritual side later in his career, becoming a more devout Muslim and adding the H to the beginning of his name in order to symbolize this transformation. After this, Olajuwon was still consistently recognized as one of the league's elite centers despite his strict observance (i.e. fasting) of Ramadan, which occurs during the NBA season and is usually a handicap for Muslim athletes. But now, he was gaining recognition for his sportsmanlike behavior on the court and his charitable pursuits off the court. He also became known as one of the sports world's more intelligent individuals, speaking several languages and having a very developed sense of art appreciation. Hakeem would take his reputation as one of the NBA's best role models into his retirement.