By Travis Duncan
Suiting up in a retro orange and red Houston Rockets jersey at the age of 52 this weekend, Hakeem Olajuwon gave the hearts of hoops fans a vintage flashback moment with a signature dreamshake (see video below) at the NBA Africa game in Johannesburg this weekend.
Meanwhile, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell has written a nice in-depth article “Olajuwon: Godfather of Basketball in Africa”. Powell spoke with basketball instructor Oliver B. Johnson to recount the rise of Hakeem from Nigeria to one of the greatest centers ever to play the sport.
Once in Lagos, with his bag of basketballs, he searched for a diamond in the rough and one day saw a boy who glistened, walking down the street.
The teenager was giraffe-like and his name was Akeem, and imagine how deflated Johnson felt when the youngster explained he was too busy playing soccer and team handball — team handball! — to deal with basketball, and kept walking.
And Powell’s beautiful explanation of the magnitude of Hakeem’s impact by imagining basketball without Hakeem.
Now imagine the state of African basketball today if that same boy hadn’t shown up at the gym later and decided, yes, to give basketball a try. Or if the man who discovered him had punched the plane ticket home rather than used the visa to Nigeria. Just think of what basketball almost missed. We would’ve never bowed at the fraternal feet of Phi Slamma Jamma, or witnessed the poetry of the Dream Shake, or heard Rudy T lecture the naysayers about the heart of a champion. Hell, had this Akeem stuck with team handball, maybe Patrick Ewing would’ve won that elusive NBA title in 1994. Life is funny that way, no?