|Friday, November 8
Rockets to send out Olajuwon in style Saturday night
HOUSTON -- Hakeem Olajuwon left the Houston Rockets a year ago to play for the Toronto Raptors as one of the 50 greatest players to ever play in the game following 17 seasons, two NBA championships and countless memories as a Rocket.
He'll return to Compaq Center Saturday night regarded as one of the city's greatest and most beloved athletes to watch his No. 34 being retired and hoisted to the roof and to announce his retirement.
Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson watched Olajuwon from the time he arrived at the University of Houston as a gangly center from Nigeria through his most glorious moments with the Rockets.
"He could do so many things to win a game and sometimes he might do all of them,'' Dawson said. "We went through a lot of years there that if the game was close, he'd get us the win. That was a great feeling. It was a remarkable ride.''
The Rockets won a coin toss to get the first pick in the 1984 draft and they didn't hesitate to choose Olajuwon. Olajuwon improved every season with the Rockets, culminating with back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.
The Rockets will show their appreciation with pre-game and halftime ceremonies at Saturday night's game against the Golden State Warriors.
"We'd never seen anything like him before,'' Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "Paying tribute to him is going to be a wonderful thing. It's going to be emotional for me.
"I know what he meant to me. I owe him all the gratitude in the world for being the biggest part of my basketball life. When I heard we were doing this, I got a warm feeling.''
Olajuwon is woven tightly into the Rockets championship years.
He averaged 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.71 blocked shots in leading Houston to the Midwest Division title prior to the 1994 playoffs and earned both offensive and defensive player of the year honors in the NBA.
The Rockets lost two home games to Phoenix in the conference semifinals but came back to beat the Suns and win a seven-game series and beat the New York Knicks in a seven-game championship series.
Olajuwon was reunited with his University of Houston teammate Clyde Drexler the following year and the Rockets won another NBA championship.
``Everyone figures that people in the limelight love it so much, they never want to leave it. But I view this as a celebration,'' Olajuwon told the Toronto Sun.
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 criticized the Rockets handling of his departure but that didn't destroy the feelings he left behind.
"As long as I've been in this business, you don't get surprised too much,'' Dawson said. "You get surprised some, but with Hakeem I got shocked. The things he was able to do and the development he had was not surprising, it was shocking.
"He was a remarkable athlete.''
Olajuwon had a career average of 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds. In 61 games with the Raptors last season, he averaged 7.1 points and six rebounds.
Olajuwon departed the Rockets as guard Steve Francis came in to take his place as team leader.
"He's like royalty,'' Francis said. "I'm basically inheriting, all of us are inheriting, something that guy built here in Houston. For myself and all the guys, we strive to be where he was, winning championships and MVPs and All-Star games. It's going to be a good thing for us to see.''
Olajuwon's ability to continue improving, impressed Dawson the most.
"He never quit trying to get better and he managed to do that,'' Dawson said. "I think that's why there are so few great, great players. A lot of players want to get better but after they reach a certain level, they can't get better.
"Dream seemed to be one of those who could keep getting better. He was just kind of a phenomenal player.''