"The Dream" is gone this weekend in Houston
By Percy Allen, Seattle Times NBA reporter
HOUSTON — Where's Hakeem Olajuwon?
The greatest player in the history of the Houston Rockets franchise is noticeably absent from All-Star weekend, when he should have been the grand marshal of a parade along Memorial Drive.
"That's surprising that he's not here," said basketball analyst Steve Kerr, who spent several years playing against Olajuwon. "You would think he'd be the unofficial host for the weekend."
Former Rocket Clyde Drexler began Friday reliving his glory days and will loft jumpers alongside Houston Comet Sheryl Swoopes inside the Toyota Center tonight in a ballyhooed shooting competition that combines past and present NBA greats with WNBA stars.
There's been several sightings of Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone and Rudy Tomjanovich, who've recounted stories of Clutch City.
Even Calvin Murphy, who would be forgiven for keeping a low profile after being acquitted of sexual abuse charges alleged by his daughters, has made the radio talk-show rounds.
Olajuwon, however, is a half a world away. He lives in virtual solitude in Jordan. He studies Islam at a university and raises his family, friends say.
"Some guys don't have to stick around and do all of this," said Charles Barkley, another ambassador of Houston. "Some guys, when they're done, they're done. And you don't hear from them."
That's too bad, because I'd love to hear from Hakeem, nicknamed "The Dream," especially now when the NBA is in dire need of eloquent elder statesmen.
I'd love to ask him his opinion on the dearth of quality big men in today's game, which is apparent when Memphis' Pau Gasol was chosen as a reserve at center even though he's a 7-foot power forward.
I'm curious what Olajuwon, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, thinks of the Africa-to-NBA pipeline that produced Dikembe Mutombo of Congo, Manute Bol of Sudan but dried up several years ago. Perhaps that's why he reached out to Charlotte's Emeka Okafor, a second-generation Nigerian, and tutored him on the finer points of low-post offense.
And I wonder if he was embarrassed when it was discovered that a Houston mosque that he founded contributed $80,000 to the Islamic African Relief Agency, now known as the Islamic American Relief Agency, and charities allegedly linked to terrorism. Reportedly, he denied any prior knowledge of the terrorist connections to his donations.
But more than anything, I'd just like to talk to Olajuwon and ask how he came up with the "Dream Shake," a dazzling display of low-post artistry, especially for a 7-foot, 255-pound center.
"You need to stand in line because I got a few questions for him too," said Drexler, who probably knows Olajuwon better than anybody. "Like how could he leave me here all alone this weekend."
Drexler was laughing when he said that, but there's some truth behind his banter. Their basketball careers started together at the University of Houston as founding members of Phi Slamma Jamma and they came within a desperation heave of winning the 1983 NCAA national title.
They reunited in 1994, when Drexler returned to his native Houston and helped the Rockets win the second of back-to-back championships.
By then, Olajuwon had already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest centers in NBA history. In 1993-94 he became the first player to be named NBA MVP, NBA Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Finals MVP in the same season.
Olajuwon finished 18 seasons with a career scoring average of 21.8 points and 51 percent shooting from the field and ranks seventh on the all-time scoring list.
"Everybody who either played with him or against him would put him right there with the best," Denver general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said. "He was relentless. Obviously, he was very strong and deceptively quick. It was that quickness that separated him from everyone else. You just couldn't keep up with him." I wish Olajuwon were here today to tell us how he humbled San Antonio MVP David Robinson in the 1995 playoffs.
) I wish he'd remind us of the lessons he gave Shaquille O'Neal in the NBA Finals when Houston swept Orlando.
"It was embarrassing," O'Neal said with a sly grin on Friday. "Why you going to bring that up?"
Because this should be Olajuwon's time to shine. We should be reliving his greatness and re-affirming his place alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and O'Neal.
Sadly, his absence diminishes those memories, and we're left to wonder if it was all a dream.