In honor of Black History Month, we’re recognizing the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of notable black immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today we focus on Nigerian-American NBA Hall of Famer, Hakeem Olajuwon.
Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon was born in Lagos, Nigeria, on January 21, 1963. His parents owned a successful cement business while raising him and his five siblings. Hakeem displayed a strong penchant for sports early, first cutting his athletic chops as a goalkeeper on the soccer field, which he credits for helping develop his footwork and shot-blocking ability. He also took up handball in high school.
Olajuwon didn’t start playing basketball until he was fifteen years old. But by 17, he was invited to scrimmage with the Nigerian Junior National team after being discovered by its U.S. coach, Richard Mills. With increasing notoriety on the court, Hakeem landed a scholarship to play with the University of Houston.
In college, Olajuwon excelled while leading his iconic team, nicknamed “Phi Slama Jama,” to the semifinals and national championship games in separate seasons. In 1984, Olajuwon entered the NBA draft, where he was selected number one overall by the Houston Rockets, above fellow college stars Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.
Olajuwon developed into one of the league’s top superstars with the Rockets. He used his seven-foot height, solid footwork, and grace to regularly finish amongst the league leaders in points, rebounds, and blocked shots. He earned the nickname “Hakeem the Dream” due to his effortless ability to dunk the basketball. Olajuwon’s trademark Dream Shake move became one of the most recognizable in the sport, using a series of fakes and spin moves to discard defenders that often matched his size but not his quickness. Olajuwon led the Rockets to two consecutive NBA championships while being named MVP of both. He was awarded league MVP in 1994 while making 12 all-star games throughout his career. He also won an Olympic gold medal while playing for the U.S. in 1996.
After retiring, Olajuwon has dedicated time to helping young players replicate his skills underneath the basket. His pupils have included superstars such as Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, and Lebron James.
Hakeem Olajuwon gained his U.S. Citizenship in April 1993. That same year, he launched the Dream Foundation to improve work, education, and living conditions for youth in Jordan, where he lives part-time while away from his home in Houston. In 2008, Olajuwon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. A sculpture of his likeness sits outside the Toyota Center, home to the Houston Rockets.
Others we are celebrating in honor of Black history Month: