Ceremony signifies end of Olajuwon's career
Rockets Honor Their Dream Player
HOUSTON, Nov. 9, 2002 (Ticker) -- In an emotional halftime ceremony, the Houston Rockets retired the uniform No. 34 of Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, the greatest player in franchise history.
Surrounded by team executives, former teammates and long-time coach Rudy Tomjanovich, Olajuwon was honored with songs and video tributes. Always professional in his approach to the game, Olajuwon could not contain his emotions and fought back some tears.
"Retirement is supposed to be fun, after working all these years," said Olajuwon, who turns 40 in January. "I'd like to correct some perceptions that when you retire, it's a negative. We are so blessed to retire so young."
"Dream has been as important to this city as anybody who ever lived," Alexander said. "Nobody ever did better. We can't give him enough, because he's given us more than we can ever give him."
Olajuwon spoke fondly of his relationship with Tomjanovich, who rode his center's greatness to consecutive titles in the mid-1990s.
"He has been a big supporter, a big brother to me," Olajuwon said. "He has taught me a lot. It was so nice to play for a coach who builds his offense around you for so many years. We had a great time."
"I'm the most grateful guy in the whole building (for) what you did for me," said Tomjanovich. "Every success I had in coaching I owe to you. We can't come close to giving you what you've given us."
Olajuwon became the fifth member of the Rockets to have his number retired, joining Tomjanovich (45), Moses Malone (24), Calvin Murphy (23) and Clyde Drexler (22). Murphy and Drexler also were on hand.
Murphy, a Rockets broadcaster, introduced Olajuwon to the crowd before the team's 111-104 win over Golden State.
Drexler teamed with Olajuwon at the University of Houston and with the Rockets, helping the club win the 1995 title.
"How many times have you seen Hakeem appear out of nowhere to save an easy basket?" Drexler said. "That's an intangible quality. He never gives up on any play. I've been honored to know him as a person and a friend."
The halftime ceremony began with a video tribute set to the duet "Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole. It ended with the banner being hoisted to Tina Turner's "Simply The Best."
Also on hand were Guy Lewis, Olajuwon's coach at the University of Houston, and former Rockets teammate Kenny Smith, now an analyst on TNT.
The fantastic ceremony probably came one year too late. After 17 years with the Rockets, Olajuwon left for Toronto after the 2000-01 season.
After spending an injury-plagued season with the Raptors, Olajuwon did not report for training camp this season due to chronic back pain. Last month, he announced he would retire.
He led the University of Houston to three Final Fours and was the best NBA center of his era, outplaying contemporaries Patrick Ewing and David Robinson on the sport's biggest stages.
One of the first truly great international players, Olajuwon is one of just eight with 20,000 points and 12,000 rebounds. The native of Nigeria is the NBA's all-time leader with 3,830 blocked shots.
"You look at film, you see a lot of guys getting beat, but who was there to save the day? Dream," Drexler said. "If you had Hakeem on your side, you had half the battle won."
Although his skills had dropped off in recent years, no one ever doubted Olajuwon's heart, even after he was diagnosed with arrhythmia in 1991.
"Whatever it took, he was there," Dawson said. "Hard worker. Tireless energy. We had to pull him off the court."
In the 1993-94 season, he was voted NBA Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player as he led the Rockets to their first title.
In the NBA Finals, Olajuwon outplayed Ewing, who had gotten the better of him at the college level. Olajuwon blocked a shot by John Starks to save Game 6, then led Houston to victory in Game 7 and was named Finals MVP.
The following season, Olajuwon led the Rockets to an improbable second title. As the sixth seed in the Western Conference, Houston knocked off the top three seeds in the West before sweeping top-seeded Orlando in the Finals.
In the conference finals, Olajuwon thoroughly outplayed Robinson, who had been named NBA MVP during the series. In the Finals, Olajuwon outdueled the massive Shaquille O'Neal, who still holds Olajuwon in extremely high regard.
The top overall pick in the 1984 draft, Olajuwon is a 12-time All-Star and five-time All-Defensive Team selection who also won Defensive Player of the Year honors following the 1992-93 season. He teamed with Ralph Sampson to lead the Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals, where they lost to Boston in six games.
On March 29, 1990, Olajuwon recorded one of just four quadruple-doubles in NBA history, collecting 18 points, 16 rebounds, 11 blocks and 10 assists against Milwaukee.
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