Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon was born January 21, 1963 in Lagos, Nigeria. He would grow up to become one of the greatest centers in basketball history.
Olajuwon played soccer growing up. As a goalie, he gained the footwork that would help him on the basketball court. He, however, did not pick up a basketball until the age of 15, when he was taken by the game and never stopped playing. He would emigrate from Nigeria to the United States for college.
Olajuwon was not highly recruited at all. He would attend the University of Houston in 1980, but couldn't clear NCAA regulations to play that season. After a freshman year of playing sparingly on a Final Four team, Olajuwon sought to get better. He started training with then Houston Rockets center and NBA great Moses Malone.
After training with Malone, Olajuwon broke out as a college star. He and his teammates, including Clyde Drexler, formed what was dubbed "Phi Slama Jama", the first slam-dunking "fraternity", because they played the game above the rim. In his sophomore and junior season Olajuwon would help lead the Cougars to back-to-back championship game appearances. They would lose on the famous tip-in to NC State on a last second air ball that then "Akeem" Olajuwon couldn't get to. They would fall the following season to a Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown team.
Olajuwon was given the 1983 NCAA Tournament Player of the Year award, despite not winning it all, and is the last player to get that honor on a losing side. After the 1984 loss, Hakeem would decide to turn pro with the prospect of playing for the hometown Rockets.
The 1984 NBA draft is the most famous in history. The Rockets did secure the No. 1 overall pick and selected Olajuwon. The No. 2 pick infamously went to the Portland Trail Blazers and they selected Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Besides Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton were in the draft class.
The Rockets experienced immediate success with Olajuwon, winning 19 more games than the year before. He averaged 20.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.68 blocks and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Jordan.
Olajuwon would continue to dominate the NBA for 17 more seasons. He would become a 12-time All-Star in that time, averaging 21.8 points per game and 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. he was a blocking machine, and even once had a quadruple-double in a game in 1990 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
"The Dream" as he would become known as, always performed better when it mattered most: in the playoffs. In 140 games of playoff basketball, Olajuwon averaged 25.9 points and 11.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. And in the 1993-1994 season, Olajuwon led the Rockets to the championship over the New York Knicks in seven games. He was awarded the Finals MVP award. In 1994, he became the only player in NBA history to win the MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. The Rockets would repeat in the 1995 NBA Finals, winning a sweep over Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic. Olajuwon dominated the young Shaq, scoring over 30 points a game on his way to another Finals MVP award.
Olajuwon would retire after the 2001-2002 season with the Toronto Raptors. In 2008 he would be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Here's to you, Dream. Happy Birthday.