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Basketball: Nigerian NBA Star Hakeem Olajuwon Announces Retirement - 2002-11-10

Nigeria-born star Hakeem Olajuwon has announced his retirement after an illustrious career that resulted in him being named one of the 50 greatest players in National Basketball Association history. The Houston Rockets honored the 39-year-old Olajuwon on November 9 with an emotional halftime tribute.

It was only fitting that Hakeem Olajuwon's retirement ceremony took place in Houston, Texas. He has more than 20 years of ties to the city.

Olajuwon arrived at the University of Houston as a tall, gangly center from Nigeria. He then starred for the city's professional basketball team, the Rockets, for 17 seasons, leading the club to back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995.

Although he was nicknamed "Dream," Olajuwon's final few years in the NBA might be termed a nightmare, in terms of injuries and ailments. He had an asthma-like breathing problem, a blood clot in his leg, a hernia operation, and finally a back injury that resulted in his retirement. Last season, Olajuwon departed the Rockets and joined a Canadian club, the Toronto Raptors. But because of injuries, he averaged only seven points and six rebounds a game, far below his career averages of nearly 22 points and 11 rebounds a contest.

Houston was always in Hakeem's heart, and he mentioned his affection for the city during the tribute. "I am here to show my sincere appreciation for the city of Houston, for all my fans who have watched me right from college all the way through my professional career," he said.

During his professional career, Hakeem Olajuwon established himself as one of the game's greatest centers. Among his achievements, he became the first player in NBA history to win the NBA Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player awards in the same season, in 1994, when the Rockets won their first championship.

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to rank in the top 10 in points, rebounds, steals, and blocked shots. He retires from the league as the NBA's all-time leader in blocks, with 3,830.

A VOA listener in Nigeria, Nzube Erobu, said he remembers Olajuwon growing up in a neighborhood of Lagos, where the future basketball star played soccer as a boy. The soccer helped develop Hakeem's exceptional footwork on the basketball court, where he thrilled many basketball fans with a wide variety of offensive moves and shots.

"One of the first times I saw Hakeem playing a professional game was in the 1980s, playing against Roy Tarpley of the Mavericks," recalls Jonathan Feigen, basketball writer for the Houston Chronicle. "I was just amazed at what an incredible athlete Hakeem was. But I even remember him playing at the University of Houston. And you could just see what a rare athlete he was."

Olajuwon became an American citizen in 1993 and played for the U.S. team in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Jonathan Feigen said Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon is a devout Muslim who has combined his faith with business by investing in some mosques in the Houston area. He said Olajuwon will stay busy with his business concerns now that he is no longer playing basketball.

During the retirement ceremony, the Houston Rockets retired Hakeem Olajuwon's number 34 jersey and raised it to the rafters of their arena.