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Hakeem Olajuwon

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Hakeem Olajuwon

  1. 1. prime-living.com 28
  2. 2. N amed one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, he lived up to his now famous moniker “Hakeem the Dream” by combining the grace, aesthetics, strength and fluidity that most players only dream of possessing. the Dreamthe Dream Living Hakeem Olajuwon proves there’s still power and glory after the hardcourt Story | Jean ciaMpi Photography | Mark lipczynski In the game of big men, he stood above the others. He was the ultimate dominator under the boards during his 18-year career in the NBA and, to this day, holds the record for blocked shots. His remarkable agility, height and warrior-like drive for victory made Hakeem Olajuwon an imposing and unstoppable force, and also ranked him in the all-time Top 10 in scoring, rebounding and steals, the only player ever to accomplish this mark. Now retired from the hardwood for nearly eight years, Olajuwon has redirected that blazing passion he once held for the game of basketball. The legendary power center is now becoming a center of power in some unexpected places. january/february • 2010 29
  3. 3. Living the DreamAt 17 years old, the son of middle-class Yoruba parents in Nigeria, Olajuwon was in his senior year at boarding school—and building an impressive reputation as a competitive team handball player—when he was first introduced to the game of basketball. The coach, seeing Olajuwon’s athletic potential, invited him to join the team at the upcoming national tournament. “I didn’t even know the rules,” he admits. “The coach gave me the concept and made the picture so clear. He taught me my role, the position as center. It is the most important, most dominating position. He told me to stay in the middle and block everything that came to the basket. After that tournament, I loved the sport. I had a passion.” He made such an impression that soon afterwards, he was invited to join other select players representing his country at the African championships. There, he caught the eye of the media and an American coach. Nine months after first stepping onto a court, Olajuwon found himself on the campus of the University of Houston. “This had always been my dream in Nigeria—to come to America, to go overseas to study. I was so happy, so satisfied just to go to class and walk between the big oak trees,” he says. “We went to the Final Four my first year. I had to ask, ‘What is the Final Four?’ I didn’t know how big it was.” The top ranked team that included future NBA Hall of Fame guard Clyde Drexler became known across the country as Phi Slamma Jamma for their impossible above-the-rim play. Their heartbreaking championship losses established the madness of March in college hoops. In 1984, Olajuwon became the No. 1 draft choice for the Houston Rockets over Michael Jordan. “When the experts pick you as No. 1, there is a lot of pressure not to disappoint,” he says. “I wanted the Rockets to be happy with their pick. That gave me a lot of motivation and drive.” The 7-foot-tall Olajuwon took the court alongside Ralph Sampson—who “towered” over him by four inches—and the two became known as the “Twin Towers.” In their second year, they helped lead the team to their first of two back-to-back NBA National Championships. Olajuwon would go on to receive a list of honors and accolades as long as his unending arm, including being the first player named NBA Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, and the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player all in the same year. “I got the nickname ‘The Dream.’ I was living the dream,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to experience my childhood in Nigeria, then to play basketball at the University of Houston and then to the Rockets. But to be in Houston, to be drafted by Houston and win the championships in Houston—that has value, you can’t measure what that means. I was living the dream.” HoustonRockets prime-living.com 30
  4. 4. A New DreamSince his retirement in 2002, Olajuwon has had more time to pursue another passion, one he’s held since growing up in Nigeria. Design, specifically clothing and architecture, are the focus of his limitless energy these days. “When you’re a big guy, you can’t find your size on the rack. Or you find your size and it’s not appealing. Your option is to go to the fabric store and create something you like,” he says. “With the new global market, there are beautiful fabrics everywhere. The big man stores have good style and quality, but my style is distinctive. So I decided to create my own, build my own brand. It’s called the Dream Collection. “I also want to buy clothes for my child, but nothing is appealing. So I get fabric and design a beautiful, simple dress that is washable and durable. When she has it on, her innocent beauty comes out. That’s what clothing should do.” His lines for men, women and children—which will be called Dream Kids—including shoes and athletic wear, are expected to be available in selected stores this spring. Olajuwon has already designed a stand-alone boutique to showcase his clothing, and has plans to eventually build it near the Galleria area of West Houston. Future goals include expanding his designs into house wares, bedding and furniture. “This is a passion. I love design as much as I love basketball. I don’t want to just endorse a product, I want to design it,” he says. “Any product you buy from my line, it’s an original, unique piece, not just mass produced. It’s art. You wear it and it distinguishes you.” Olajuwon’s clothing design will be a personal reflec- tion of who he is: comfortable and elegant with a simple, casual flair. His colors are rich and the quality obvious. His corporation, THE DR34M—which plays off of the number he wore throughout his career—has set up production and design support near where Olajuwon now spends a large portion of his time in Amman, Jordan. The offices that he designed himself were inspired by Philip Johnson’s Glass House, inviting the beauty of the landscape around it inside. His life in the Western Asian country gives him the opportunity to immerse himself and his family in the Muslim culture and continue learning Arabic, the language of the Koran. His Muslim faith remains a driving force in his life and he works to teach the values his parents instilled in him to the six of his seven children who still live at home. “I want them to be happy with simple things. It doesn’t matter what accomplishments you have or how much money you make. The simple things give you passion,” Olajuwon says. “I grew up with structured humility, honesty and values. With these principals you can handle any successes at any level.” With his power and creativity well centered, Hakeem Olajuwon is, once again, quietly becoming an unstoppable force. january/february • 2010 31
  5. 5. 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Hakeem + A collector of contemporary art, one of Olajuwon’s favorite artists is Theodore Roszak, an abstract painter and sculptor. + During the summer before he began practicing with the University of Houston basketball team, Olajuwon would play pickup games at the Fondren Rec Center against Houston Rocket and future member of the NBA Hall of Fame Moses Malone. “It boosted my confidence. I thought, ‘College will be easier than this! I can dominate.’ ” + When asked what his greatest accomplishment in his career has been, he admits that the expected answer might be the Championship wins. However, he believes that the journey itself was the accomplishment. “All the experiences that sum up to a successful career, the ups and downs, the expectations and desire to win, it builds volume.” + Olajuwon maintains a training regimen that includes running, weights and pick up basketball games at the local gym. “Basketball was fun, then it was a job and now it’s back to being fun again. I play small forward, where I always wanted to play, to keep the game more fair.” + When Olajuwon learned that the historic Jim West Mansion overlooking Clear Lake was to be torn down, he purchased the 1930 Italian Renaissance structure in order to protect it. “Developers only look at numbers. They don’t know the beauty, the aesthetics of the architecture.” He is considering developing the property next to the mansion, incorporating the building. “Developing, that’s new for me. That’s stepping out of my comfort zone, but I would like to design more buildings.” + Olajuwon’s The Noor Foundation is instrumental in helping improve educational opportunities for children in Nigeria among other activities. “There are a lot of smart kids with potential. We try to equip schools with basic necessities like desks. A simple, nice desk shouldn’t be an issue. And computers. The foundation works to provide assistance.” I love design as much as I love basketball. I don’t want to just endorse a product, I want to design it,” he says. “Any product you buy from my line, it’s an original, unique piece, not just mass produced. It’s art. You wear it and it distinguishes you.” “This is a passion. prime-living.com 32

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