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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.