Living a Dream
Olajuwon, who is in Houston for his big man camp, is relishing retired life
By Damien Pierce
Rockets.comHOUSTON -- Below a pack of soccer moms jogging around an elevated track in a local basketball gym, Hakeem Olajuwon is holding court.
The Rockets legend, who has been playfully dubbed "Old Man" ever since he began conducting his inaugural Big Man Camp at Memorial Hermann-HBU Wellness Center last week, gathers his pupils in the paint and challenges them all to a series of one-on-one drills.
The poor kids don't have a clue what they're getting into.
Nearly 10 minutes into a session that has been all Olajuwon, the center backs down Charlotte Bobcats center Emeka Okafor and introduces the third-year pro to "The Dream Shake."
With one fluid fake to the right and spin to the left baseline, Olajuwon effortlessly sinks a jumper over Okafor just like he did so many times during his 18-year NBA career.
The man simply known as "The Dream" then playfully
puts an end to all that old man talk.
"I'm not that old," jokes Olajuwon, who turned 43 in January.
He could probably return to the court if he wasn't having such a good time away from of it.
Over four years since playing his final NBA game and finishing his career as one of the league's greatest centers ever, Olajuwon is living the good life.
The best player to ever wear a Rockets uniform has a Big Man Camp in Houston, works in the real estate business and spends his free time in Jordan.
Olajuwon, who was born in Nigeria, has a vast spread with his family, where he takes in the great outdoors on a daily basis.
He's got zero complaints.
"I feel satisfied," Olajuwon said. "I feel satisfied with what I've accomplished and I feel grateful for what I accomplished in my career."
Despite the lure of hiking or swimming in Jordan, Olajuwon hasn't completely left behind the game. The Rockets center is spending the next few weeks in Houston teaching the next generation of centers.
After spending a week tutoring Okafor last summer,
Olajuwon decided to invite a few more names this summer to his tutorial sessions, transforming his private lessons into a Big Man Camp.
Several big names have lined up to see him. Dallas' DeSagana Diop and D.J. Mbenga, Golden State's Ike Diogu and Chicago's Luol Deng are expected to join Okafor at Memorial Hermann-HBU Wellness Center.
Olajuwon charges them all exactly the same for his services: Zero.
"This is my duty," Olajuwon said. "I love showing other centers what I was able to do over my career. This is something to help a game that has been good to me."
Most of the NBA names who are expected to be in attedance at Olajuwon's camp are trying to pick up his moves and foot work. During the workouts,
Olajuwon shows off his low post moves for the group to emulate. He whirls, pivots and spins to the base line with such quickness that his pupils have a hard time of keeping up with him.
Olajuwon's moves have the look of a ballet.
Just ask Okafor.
"He has an amazing gift around the basket," Okafor said. "I'm trying to pick up his moves, but he's so hard to emulate. I'm trying hard."
Olajuwon loves being in the gym and mixing it up with the young guys. Despite being able to get his message across to the centers, he doesn't have any desire to sit on an NBA bench as a coach.
"That's a job," Olajuwon said. "That's a big difference. I don't want to work because I've travelled all my career. Now, I finally get more time off with my family and a chance to do stuff with them. I wouldn't give that up. Why would I want to give that up?"
Eventually, Olajuwon wants to add Yao Ming's name to the list of players attending his camp.
He believes he can help Yao close the gap on becoming the league's top center by making him more aggressive in the paint and overhauling his mindset.
"Yao has all the tools and he already has the respect of others to take more," Olajuwon said. "He needs to have a tough mentality. I want to paint a picture for him on how he should see himself on the floor. He can dominate this league if he wants to."
Despite being away from the game, Olajuwon still looks like the same man who became the NBA's all-time leading shot blocker.
Besides having virtually no gray hair, he's in good shape and doesn't appear to have lost a step on the basketball court.
"He can still play in the NBA," Okafor said.
Besides part-time teaching, Olajuwon has immersed himself in the real estate business. He owns several major buildings in downtown Houston and beyond.
The center said he is actively involved in his business.
"You have to be involved," Olajuwon said. "I'm drawn to it because I love architecture. I like deciding the structure of a building and determining what the highest use of land is."
Nothing away from the court, however, will overshadow what he has done on it.
During his 18-year NBA career, Olajuwon earned the 1993-94 MVP trophy and became the league's all-time career leader in blocked shots. He averaged 21.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game over his career.
His greatest accomplishment?
"It would be winning the championships," said Olajuwon, who carried the Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. "I didn't win a championship in college and it took me a while in the NBA. It was a great moment for the team and the city of Houston."
The Rockets center, however, will always been known best for redifining the center position.
After being long considered a position where big, slow-footed players methodically backed down opponents, Olajuwon brought speed and agility to the position.
Olajuwon believes he is so different from so many other centers who played the game that he passed on an opportunity to rank himself among the NBA's all-time best.
"I can't compare myself," Olajuwon said. "I played differently than others. I was more agility, quickness and moves. I wasn't the big man of yesterday. They just backed people down and -- even though that is valuable to a team -- that was boring to me. I wanted to play with quickness."
He used that speed to accomplish a ton.
During Tracy McGrady's recent T-Mac Celebrity Softball Classic, Olajuwon was stunned when a public address announcer listed his accomplishments as he was introduced to fans.
The center had no idea that he had done so much.
"The only thing I ever wanted to do in my career was win," Olajuwon said. "When they introduced me with all these things that I accomplished my career, I turned around and said, 'Who is that? I accomplished all that?'"
After seeing old friends, holding his Big Man Camp and taking care of some real estate business over the next few weeks, Olajuwon will return to Jordan.
The good life is waiting.
"When I was playing, I would come to Jordan to workout in the off-season," Olajuwon said. "I always told myself I would spend my days there after my playing days were over. That's what I'm going to do."