Hakeem Olajuwon awarded with “Legend of the Year” honor

hakeem-honoredIt was Michael Jordan‘s birthday Sunday, but it is Hakeem Olajuwon‘s “year.”

Olajuwon, the Hall of Fame center who spent nearly his entire career in the host city for the 2013 All-Star Weekend and led the Rockets to two NBA championships, was honored at the National Basketball Retired Players Association Legends Brunch as its “Legend of the Year.”

He didn’t blow out any candles, but he did hear the applause and feel the appreciation of more than 1,000 attendees of the burgeoning event, sponsored by the retired players association now for 14 years.

Oh, and Olajuwon not only was selected No. 1, two spots ahead of Jordan, in the 1984 Draft. He beat him to 50 as well, hitting that milestone on Jan. 21.

The 6-foot-10 native of Lagos, Nigeria, who set standards for grace and footwork among the NBA’s great big men, Olajuwon famously transferred some soccer skills to hardwood when he picked up a basketball at age 15.

In an acceptance speech that lasted more than 17 minutes – so much for “The Dream’s” image as a man of few words – he talked of his development under respected coaches such as Guy Lewis at the University of Houston and Bill Fitch and Rudy Tomjanovich with the Rockets.

But he also paid tribute to Ganiyu Otenigbagbe, who essentially discovered and molded his game in secondary skill. “I did not know the rules of basketball,” Olajuwon said Sunday, “but he gave me his job description: ‘Stay in the paint!’ “

Olajuwon established himself as an unusually skilled offensive player for a big man, perfecting a set of fakes and spin moves that became known as his trademark Dream Shake.

He led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. In 2008, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Olajuwon is a 12-time NBA All-Star, and has been named the 1994 NBA MVP.

Olajuwon is considered one of the greatest centers ever to play the game. Some say, he was the best.

He played in 1238 NBA games (1186 started), averaging 21.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg and 3.1 bpg in 35.7 minutes of action.

The Legends Brunch traditionally honors former NBA players and coaches who worked in, hail from or shared some other connection with the All-Star city each year.

This year, the 14th Annual NBA Legends Brunch saw over 1,500 retired players, their families and fans attending the event, which is hosted by the National Basketball Retired Players Association – a non-profit association comprised of former NBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotters players.



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