Hakeem Olajuwon Talks Power Forward Program and His All-Time Pickup Basketball Team

Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon is in his native country of Nigeria this week to tip-off the launch of "Power Forward," a youth program designed to foster life skills and build health knowledge through basketball in 10 schools in Abuja. The program is a partnership through the NBA, WNBA, Africare and ExxonMobil.

The two-time NBA champion and tireless contributor to the game of basketball chatted with NBA Africa about getting involved in the continent and weighed in on some fun, hoops-nerd debates -- like who would be his all-time pickup basketball team and whether or not his Houston Rockets squad in the 1990s could beat the Chicago Bulls had Jordan never retired during the years the Rockets won.

Aman Ali, NBA Africa: Hakeem, appreciate you taking the time to not only chat, but also getting involved in this initiative. What got you interested in Power Forward?

Hakeem Olajuwon: Power Forward, it's empowering the next generation through sports and encouraging people to follow their dreams through basketball. It's really about leadership to build that foundation, using basketball, as a way to connect everybody. That's what's so good about sports. It unites people from all different parts of life through that common bond. That's why leadership is so crucial and beneficial in providing this opportunity.

NBA Africa: You've talked a lot in the past about how important your faith was to you, and how it helped you develop the discipline to be successful. When you travel across the African continent to places like Nigeria, what is your message to kids who look up to you and see you as an inspiration?

Hakeem Olajuwon: I tell them take advantage of opportunities that are given. Having a work ethic. Things don't come easy, you have to work for it. You have to take that concept of hard work, discipline, and encourage them to strive to reach their potential. When you do your best, you will reach your potential.

NBA Africa: You're a busy guy these days as a development coach for the Houston Rockets, you're a businessman, a philanthropist and have all sorts of other things going on. You don't have to get involved in programs like Power Forward, but you choose to. What motivates you to get involved?

Hakeem Olajuwon: About 30-something years ago, basketball was introduced to my school. In my senior year of high school. And that's how I started playing basketball, through that introduction. Today, I have that same opportunity, as a way of giving back.

Power Forward, it's a natural fit. For me, to be part of this grassroots development and giving children the opportunity to be in the sport that I love, is such a natural thing and an obligation for me. My role as a basketball star is to bring people together and be a good example so the kids can relate.

NBA Africa: Changing gears a little bit, I'm sure you heard about Michael Jordan recently naming his all-time pickup basketball team, and how he listed you as a guy he'd like play with. Who is your all-time pickup basketball team, who are the guys that you'd want to play with?

Hakeem Olajuwon: Wow. That's a tough question because I need to think about that. There's a lot of great great players, hmmm. Michael Jordan, no question. You gotta put LeBron James in there too, no question. Point guard, John Stockton. Shaquille O'Neal, center. Power Forward? Oh man, hmmm, I would pick Moses Malone.

NBA Africa: I know it's such a tough question because there are so many great players to come through this league, but why did you choose those guys? What stands out about them?

Hakeem Olajuwon: These guys are truly great, great players. They have the desire to win definitely. These are winners. They know how to win, they're great, they're superstars. If you want to win against any team in history, I would pick those guys.

NBA Africa: So wait, you'd pick Shaquille O'Neal over yourself? You wouldn't want to play? What are you going to do, sit on the bench and watch everyone else play?

Hakeem Olajuwon: Hahaha, no, I'd pick Shaquille.

NBA Africa: There's no right or wrong answers here because I know these are just fun debates that basketball nerds like myself like to have. Recently your longtime friend and teammate, Kenny Smith, said something (on NBA TV's Open Court) along the lines of even if Michael Jordan didn't retire during the years the Houston Rockets won the NBA Finals (1994 and 1995), the Chicago Bulls would still lose to your team. What do you think about that, do you think you would have faced the Chicago Bulls in any of those Finals and been able to beat them?

Hakeem Olajuwon: You know, I hear that all the time. You never know. What I do know for sure, you've got to give credit to the Orlando Magic. Orlando beat Chicago in the (1995) playoffs and Michael Jordan was there. Earlier in the season, Michael Jordan had a great game against New York, he put up 50-something points. He was in great shape and in the playoffs Orlando beat them. Orlando had Shaquille, Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant. They were a tough team and they beat Chicago.

NBA Africa: I know you're a busy guy and don't want to take too much of your time. Just one more question. This is your second trip to Africa in the past 2-3 months. Do you have plans on returning to the continent in the future?

Hakeem Olajuwon: With Power Forward, it's not just a one-time program. It's more of a grassroots program building a foundation and it's here to stay. And as long as it's here to stay, there will be more opportunities for me coming back to the continent.