Born in Nigeria, Africa, and third child of six children. His last name means “surpassing wealth,” and his career would agree. Hakeem Olajuwon grew up in a small neighborhood with a close family. “They taught us to be honest, work hard, respect our elders, and believe in ourselves,” said Olajuwon.
It’s not often you meet someone over six feet tall, but Hakeem clocks in at a towering seven feet tall. This would give him an amazing advantage in his career, and would also help him earn his nickname: “The Dream.”
In his younger years, at a striking 6’9” at only 15 years old, he would play a soccer goalie. Which, he attributes his swiftness and agility to: My background playing soccer gave me a natural advantage over many of the American-born players.”
Years later, he would discover his passion for basketball. He attended the University of Houston from 1981-84, where he led his team to three consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances. In 1984, the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) drafted him. Olajuwon is considered one of the greatest centers ever to play the game. He was nicknamed “The Dream” during his basketball career after he dunked so effortlessly that his college coach said it “looked like a dream.”
Despite the fact that he was now living in America, he still remained true to his home roots through his religion: “I studied the Qur’an every day. At home, at the mosque…I would read it in airplanes, before games and after them. I was soaking up the faith and learning new meanings each time I turned a page. I didn’t dabble in the faith, I gave myself over to it.”
His faith would help him get through the overwhelming challenge of the game. Many of his teammates noted that Hakeem would play and perform better in the court when he had been cognizant of his spirituality.
Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to the NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. He also was voted the league’s most valuable player for the 1993-94 season. Throughout his career, sportswriters and fans alike considered him, as well as Shaquille O’Neal to be the NBA’s best centers. Olajuwon retired in 2002 after signing with the Toronto Raptors the previous year. He then became an American citizen in 1993.
He continued to complete an amazing basketball career, and even wrote about his experiences and the obstacles he overcame in his autobiography Living the Dream: My Life and Basketball. After he retired, Olajuwon changed his career path and became a successful real-estate dealer in Houston and became a highly-sought instructor for NBA players seeking to improve their moves on the court.
When not in Houston, Olajuwon spends his time with his family, where he studies the Koran. He is proud of his African roots: “Being from Africa is the best thing that could have ever, ever happened to me. I cannot see it any other way. All of my fundamental principles that were instilled in me in my home, from my childhood, are still with me.” And as he reflects on his life and career, he mentions that life is a journey, and you should analyze where you stand: “All these boundaries – Africa, Asia, Malaysia, America – are set by men. But you don’t have to look at boundaries when you are looking at a man – at the character of a man. The question is: What do you stand for? Are you a follower, or are you a leader?”