The first exhibition game involving NBA players in Africa took place on August 1, 2015. This historic event was the culmination of years of goodwill tours conducted by Hakeem Olajuwon and too many others to mention. The week-long event was filled with youth clinics in hopes of stimulating the desire for basketball on the African Continent, hoping to find the next Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, who was drafted back in 1984.
— NBA Africa (@NBA_Africa) August 3, 2015
At 15, I remember attending the 1984 NBA Draft on a June afternoon. It was held at the Felt Forum (a theater inside Madison Square Garden). The draft back then was nothing like the primetime event we experience today. No tickets were necessary for entry—we simply stood and waited until we passed through the turnstile. Every fan that entered was given a draft sheet which listed the top prospects or they could purchase the “NBA Today ‘84 NBA Draft Guide” for $3. The dimly lit theater was the backdrop, and the stench of cigar smoke filled the air.
This is my recollection of the 1984 NBA Draft. It was a foregone conclusion that Akeem Olajuwon (as he was known at the time) would be selected number one overall by the Houston Rockets. Although Michael Jordan was the most electrifying player in the draft pool, he wasn’t yet the type of player that a franchise would be built around.
Besides, he wasn’t even there, unless you want to count the video message from the Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. They weren’t present due to Coach Bobby Knight’s strict practice rules.
It was also Commissioner David Stern’s first chance at hosting the draft. While all of these NBA factoids might make for interesting reading, for me, the lasting memory of the 1984 NBA Draft was seeing Akeem Olajuwon’s family.
I know for sure that Olajuwon’s mother and father was there, I can’t say for who the other family members were. They were all dressed very dignified in their traditional African attire. The women were dressed in beautiful, vibrant colors and their heads were wrapped. Akeem even wore a tuxedo to exemplify the magnitude of the moment.
I remember saying to myself, “He’s really African.” Growing up in New York City, I had come across many ethnicities, but I didn’t always see people dressed in their traditional garb. Seeing the Olajuwon family was a beautiful sight, and I felt great admiration and pride.
As for the exhibition game played a couple of weeks ago, does anyone really care about the score? Excitement filled the arena when Olajuwon entered the game in the second quarter wearing a throwback white Rockets uniform. The highlight of the game was when he used one of his signature moves, the “Dream Shake,” to score a basket on Orlando Magic, Nic Vucevic.
“We all won”, said Olajuwon after the exhibition, “The whole week was a winner.” Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon has come full circle in the spectrum of basketball. Beginning with the NBA Draft in 1984, back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995, Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2008 and ending with NBA Africa 2015. Once again Hakeem has instilled me with a sense of pride.
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