Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matt Slocum/AP/Shutterstock (10459954s) Hakeem Olajuwon throws a ceremonial first pitch before Game 6 of the baseball World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals, in Houston World Series Nationals Astros Baseball, Houston, USA – 29 Oct 2019
Fred Faour: NBA naming award after Olajuwon does not tell the whole story
Postseason awards are a fickle thing. They give fans something to debate, and they can add to the luster of a special season. Many are named for legends of the sport.
The NBA announced some changes to its awards, and one thing stood out. The defensive player of the year award will now be the Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy. Moves like this can help remind us just how great certain players were. And Olajuwon might have been the best player this city has seen in any sport. Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell, J.J. Watt, Jose Altuve – all had or are having dominant runs.
But Olajuwon was a major standout. The NBA resume is astounding: He was a 12-time NBA All-Star, a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, league MVP in 1984, All-NBA first team six times, nine times in his career he was a first or second team all-defensive player. He led the league in rebounding twice and blocks three times. And he was a two-time defensive player of the year, the award that now carries his name.
But Olajuwon was so much more than that, especially to the city of Houston. While this is an NBA Award, his college resume was just as impressive.
He arrived at the University of Houston as a skinny soccer player from Lagos, Nigeria, lightly recruited. He had to sit out a year to satisfy NCAA requirements, then became a sixth man on the first of three Final Four teams. He famously worked on his game before his sophomore year with Moses Malone and other pro players at Houston’s Fonde Rec Center. He returned a different player, earning the nickname “The Dream.” He became the driving force behind Phi Slama Jama and back-to-back trips to the championship game.
PSJ has gotten a lot of run lately thanks to the current Cougars dominance, as Kelvin Sampson’s team continues to do things not seen since Olajuwon and crew.
While he never got that title for UH, he became a Rockets cornerstone, finally bringing the city its first titles of any kind in the mid-90s. That the second came with former PSJ alum, Clyde Drexler only made it more special.
Olajuwon was an amazing representative of the city he adopted, an immigrant who became the face of the University of Houston and the Houston Rockets. He would eventually become a U.S. citizen and play in the Olympics. For the first 13 years of his career, he averaged over 20 points per game, a run of sustained excellence rarely seen in big men anymore. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2008 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2016. Olajuwon was simply one of the greatest to ever play the game, and other than a final forgettable year in Toronto, he did it all in Houston.
Despite his all-around game, defense was his calling card, with blocked shots, steals, and incredible post presence. The NBA got it right naming its award after Olajuwon. It means a lot.
To Houston, he meant ever more.