Why Hakeem Olajuwon is the Greatest International Player Ever

N.B. Lindberg
Houston Rockets v Washington Bullets
Houston Rockets v Washington Bullets / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

From Humble Beginnings to Houston: How Hakeem Became a Rockets' Legend

Building a legacy that can stand the test of time is an achievement all on its own, but Hakeem carving his statue on Mount Olympus is even more impressive considering the context of his life. 

Hakeem Olajuwon was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He played goalkeeper in soccer to channel his athletic talents, and it wasn’t until he was 15 years old that he started to play basketball. While his American counterparts had spent a childhood honing their craft and playing against the best amateurs in the world, Hakeem didn’t pick up a basketball until well into his teens and faced decidedly less fierce competition.   

Hakeem was not highly recruited out of high school and was only offered a tryout by the University of Houston Cougars. The coaching staff saw enough in the lanky teenager to give him a shot. Hakeem’s late start to the sport saw him redshirt and then come off the bench in his redshirt freshman season. 

By his sophomore season, it was apparent that the lightly recruited Nigerian was destined for the NBA. An excellent Junior season and college career propelled Hakeem to the number one overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft to his second hometown Houston Rockets. Not bad for someone who had only picked up the sport six years prior. 

As they say, the rest is history. Hakeem spent 17 seasons with the Rockets, making three Finals and winning two. His list of individual accolades is nearly too long to list, but here’s a shot: 12-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA, 9-time All-Defensive Team, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Finals MVP, and the 1993-94 NBA MVP.