View Full Version : Rockets thank Olajuwon; retire No.34 jersey

11-10-2002, 03:26 AM
Olajuwon led Rockets to two NBA titles during career

Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Hakeem Olajuwon came to the United States from Nigeria as a gangly 7-foot teenager, developing an affinity for ice cream and a taste for winning championships.

The Houston Rockets thanked Olajuwon for the ride Saturday night, retiring his No. 34 in a halftime ceremony during their game against the Golden State Warriors.

Rockets owner Les Alexander announced that a life-sized statue of Olajuwon would be on display at the Rockets' new downtown arena that will open next season. The crowd started chanting "MVP, MVP'' as Olajuwon spoke.

"All my career, I've stayed focused and looked forward,'' Olajuwon said. "When people start putting the accomplishments together, I think they are talking about someone else.''

Olajuwon, 39, played 17 seasons with the Rockets, leading them to consecutive NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. He was a 12-time All-Star, the league MVP in 1994 and the Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994.

After watching the first half of the game, Olajuwon said it was time to end his career.

"I don't look at this as the end, it is the beginning of the next phase of my life,'' Olajuwon said. "You know what you accomplished over the years and now it is time to sit and watch.''

Olajuwon, dubbed "Dream'' early in his career, froze opponents with his arsenal, including his graceful Dream Shake, a turnaround, fallaway jumper that was almost impossible to stop.

"I don't know where Dream came from, but my life has been a dream,'' Olajuwon said. "The people of Houston have been so supportive.''

Clyde Drexler rejoined his University of Houston teammate for the Rockets' second title run and celebrated with Olajuwon on Saturday night.

"He played with the fear of God in him because he did not want to lose,'' Drexler said. "He wanted to win every game he played in, every single one. His fear was in losing. He didn't want to let his teammates down he didn't want to let the fans or the coaches down. To me that's the consummate winner.''

Olajuwon finished his career as the NBA leader in blocked shots with 3,830. He averaged 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds and had a career total of 2,162 steals. His production dropped to 7.1 points and six rebounds last season in 61 games with the Toronto Raptors.

Olajuwon started his American dream at the University of Houston. He showed up as a thin 7-footer from Lagos and quickly learned from coach Guy Lewis.

"We taught him and instructed him for two years and he finally caught on, and once he caught on there was no stopping him,'' Lewis said. "People asked me if he'd improve in the pros and I said yes, he's just learning the game.

"He went from being a fairly non-player to the best basketball player in the world.''

Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson recalled the security of having Olajuwon in close games.

"I remember thinking if we were close going into the final two minutes of the game, we're going to win because he can find a way,'' Dawson said. "He had so many ways to win a game. There's not a lot of people that had as many tools.

"He could block a shot, he could steal a ball. People don't realize for a player his size how many steals he got in his life.''

In the 1988-89 season, Olajuwon became the first player in NBA history to get 200 steals and 200 blocks in the same season.

The Rockets won a coin toss to get the first pick in the 1984 draft and didn't hesitate to choose Olajuwon. Olajuwon improved every season with the Rockets, culminating with back-to-back NBA titles.

"He'd come back every year with something new,'' Dawson said. "He developed a face up, he put the ball on the floor and he'd make an outside shot.

"The biggest thing when we really started to take off was his passing. He started taking advantage of all the defenses that were set up to stop him. He made people pay for the double and triple-teams. That's when we took off as a team.''

Olajuwon started his 17th season with the Rockets in 2000-2001 thinking it would be his last. He changed his mind and decided to continue playing. The Rockets ended up trading Olajuwon to the Raptors for first- and second-round draft picks.

Olajuwon turned down a Rockets' offer of a three-year contract worth $13 million and signed with the Raptors for three years and an $18 million package. Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy, a former Rockets guard and now a team broadcaster, introduced Olajuwon before the game.

"I watched him come in as a youngster being able to run up and down the floor and do some basic things and then turn into perhaps among the top three of great centers of all time,'' Murphy said. "I just feel privileged that I had a chance to watch him develop and watch the things that he has done.''