To commemorate David Stern's final draft, the NBA is planning to surprise him on stage with a blast from the past.
When Stern hands over the duties of announcing picks to his deputy and successor Adam Silver after the first round, a brief tribute is planned. The league is expected to show a video of Stern from his first draft in 1984 along with the top pick from that year, Hakeem Olajuwon of Houston.
And then Olajuwon is scheduled to emerge in person to greet the outgoing commissioner for a full-circle reunion. While it is doubtful that Stern will be sporting a mustache this time, Olajuwon is planning to wear the same style of tuxedo that he wore in 1984.
"I am very honored to be invited," Olajuwon says. "I am very privileged to have witnessed the commissioner from day one and see his leadership develop the NBA, see the globalization of the NBA as a brand on the world stage."
For him it started on the stage at the old Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden. Olajuwon has vivid memories of that moment, saying he could "feel the accolades from the fans."
The grip-and-grin photo of Stern and Olajuwon on draft day has been recycled plenty this week on the occasion of the commissioner's last roundup. But Olajuwon says it was one night earlier that he really had a chance to forge a relationship with Stern.
The commissioner took the prospective draftees and their families to dinner.
"He was so pleasant and so gracious," Olajuwon says. "My parents were coming from Nigeria. They really didn't know too much about NBA basketball. But after a few minutes sitting down with the commissioner, they learned so much so quickly. That just shows you the way commissioner communicates and how he sells the NBA. Someone who doesn't have much background on the NBA can quickly pick up what the NBA is all about when they talk to him."
Olajuwon shared that enthusiasm for the game and says he was able to persuade Stern to designate him as an official ambassador for the league during his career. He traveled around the world to spread the word. "I wanted to communicate that passion for NBA basketball," he says.
With Hakeem at the top of the board, Stern's first draft class is considered by many to be the best during his run as commissioner. (Olajuwon jokes that they were rookies together.)
Sam Bowie, the second overall pick, never blossomed because of injury but three other players -- Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton -- joined Olajuwon on the NBA's list of 50 Greatest Players of all time. Sam Perkins, the fourth overall pick, played 15 years in the league. Alvin Robertson (No. 7), Otis Thorpe (No. 9) and Kevin Willis (No. 11) became All-Stars.
"I feel so privileged to be a part of that," he says.
Olajuwon echoes those sentiments when talking about the invitation to participate in this year's draft festivities. Stern quickly ditched the mustache he had at the 1984 draft, and he alternated between the clean-shaven look and the full beard for the rest of his tenure. As someone who has gotten an up-close look at all three styles, Olajuwon has opinion on the best choice.
"I go with the beard," he says. "It makes him look dignified. Like a wise man."