How a Tokyo plane ride saved Hakeem from leaving the Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon
Mandatory Credit: Tim de Frisco /Allsport
Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon Mandatory Credit: Tim de Frisco /Allsport /
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets – Hakeem Olajuwon /

The Tokyo Trip that Changed the Rockets’ Fortune Forever

From the looks of it, the situation seemed dire between the two sides and an Olajuwon/Rockets divorce seemed imminent. The Rockets were set for a 14-hour plane trip from Dallas to Tokyo for the NBA season opener in 1992.

On the plane were Hakeem Olajuwon and Rockets Owner Charlie Thomas. They hadn’t spoken since the harsh words each had lobbed at each other earlier in the year. Something then happened on that plane ride that would save the future of the organization.

The two ended up sitting next to each other for the flight and eventually began to hash out their differences and heal their relationship. Olajuwon would go on to say this about the discussion on the plane.

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“Charlie and I used to be close, but things broke down badly last year. What we did on the plane was maybe take a step toward trying to re-establish a relationship. We cannot go back. All we can do is go forward from here and try to rebuild.”

The Rebirth of Something Great

After that plan ride, lines of communication opened back up. In March of 1993, Olajuwon and the Rockets negotiated a contract extension — a stunning turnaround after the two sides seemed to be heading for a split. Olajuwon spoke (subscription required) on the extension.

“My lawyers and Charlie (will) work out the contract situation,” Olajuwon said. “There’s not a question of if’ it’s just a question of when. But the key is to do the job out here.”

We all know the rest: the Houston Rockets pushed the Seattle Supersonics to seven games that season and would go on to win back-to-back championships in the 1994 and 1995 seasons.

Just like that, everything went from an almost utter disaster of trading away Olajuwon for Rony Seikaly to the highest of highs for Clutch City.

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This should be a life lesson for everyone that knows this story. No matter what situation you are in or how bad it gets, sometimes a simple discussion can change your life and others when it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.