Olajuwon Honored At Legends Brunch

– It was Michael Jordan‘s birthday Sunday – in case you’re the one who hadn’t heard that by now – 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!’ ”

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. The others honored for 2013:

Ambassador of the Year: Yao Ming. Yao’s foundation and his partnership with NBA China has enabled him to “build a bridge” between his homeland and the U.S. The 7-6 native of Shanghai, whose eight-season career was interrupted and cut short by foot and leg injuries, was introduced by current Rockets guard Jeremy Lin.

Humanitarian of the Year: Dikembe Mutombo. The shot intimidator and blocker who spent the last five of his 18 NBA seasons in Houston is renowned for his charitable works, particularly in his native Republic of the Congo. Mutombo credited Olajuwon, who preceded him to the NBA by eight years, with being the “key of our continent.” “You’ve become The Dream for winning championships,” Mutombo said, addressing his friend from the stage, “but you’re a dream for so many African players.”

Hometown Hero Award: Robert Horry. Horry, known as “Big Shot Bob,” was part of the Rockets’ title-winning teams in 1994 and 1995, then won five more rings with the Lakers and the Spurs. In an ironic twist, the former teammate who was supposed to introduce Horry – Sam Cassell, known for his motormouth tendencies on and off the court – needed an assist from TNT announcer and emcee Ernie Johnson because Cassell lost his voice somewhere during All-Star festivities.

Houston Rockets Lifetime Achievement Award: Tomjanovich. A five-time All-Star as a rockets player and coach of the two championship teams, Rudy T joked that when he was drafted in 1971, the NBA ranked fourth in popularity in Houston behind football, baseball and “bull-riding.” “Now the city is hosting its third All-Star Game,” he said.

Pioneer Award: Calvin Murphy. The flamboyant 5-foot-9 Hall of Famer took the stage after a video montage of career highlights was shown on screens in the ballroom, then said, “Boy, I was good.” The point guard from Niagara turned longtime Rockets broadcaster noted the difference in prestige that came with former NBA players no longer being referred to as “Old Timers” but rather “Legends.”

Lifetime Achievement Award: Clyde Drexler. Drexler, a 2004 Hall of Fame enshrinee and member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team,” grew up in Houston and gained initial fame teamed with Olajuwon in college on the “Phi Slamma Jamma” University of Houston team in the early 1980s. He returned to the city and to Olajuwon via trade in for the 1995 title run.

Drexler was the guy whose rookie season of 1983-84 in Portland was so promising – he had 10 All-Star appearances in his future – that the Trail Blazers opted to draft Kentucky center Sam Bowie at No. 2 behind Olajuwon, passing on you know who. That means Drexler, for the record, turned 50 last June 22.

A large number of familiar NBA names – from other Hall of Famers to role players – attended the brunch, including 2000 Sixth Man award winner Rodney Rogers. Rogers, 41, required the use of a wheelchair and ventilator after being paralyzed in an all-terrain vehicle accident in December 2012.


  1. Mytwocents-i agree because they both would have the same amount of rings playing against The Dream easily & i like him. But even more so because they were both-Russell & Wilt-champs off the court in the civil rights movement 🙂 & made it possible for people like The Dream to be able to have a career in the nba. 🙂 So yeah-i take offense to that diss too. The thing is that the media & we fans sometimes are the ones who compare diff era players & most of them are probably friends w/ each other to some extent. True fans of the game appreciate all Legends-so stop haten emmanuel!!! 🙂

  2. 🙂 Bill Russell would be the all time record leader never to be broken in blocked shots if they were recorded as stats in the “60’s-followed by a close 2nd by Wilt!!! 🙂

  3. Mytwocents says:

    Hakeem is a great player and truly a legend but to dis Wilt and Bill Russell is way off base. NO player would dominate Wilt from any decade. He was most likely the best athelete of all the big men who ever played the game. Averaged 50 points in a single seaason will never be accomlished again. 55 rebounds in one game. Geesh. If I am not mistaken they did not count blcoked shots when he played. Wonder how many he and Bill Russell averaged a game.

  4. @ temmy-even though i’m from U.S.A i hope so to because nba is so worldwide now that there’s no excuse for any teams to not do more world recruiting. Hopefully teams will continue to improve in their world wide recruitment.

  5. sports fan says:

    Everyone mentions Wilt, Kareem, & Shaq but never Hakeem. He would’ve matched up greatly against Wilt & Kareem and he beat Ewing & Shaq in the finals. For a center he had the best all around game & the most moves due to having the best footwork & ball handling. Olajuwon in his prime is the best center to ever play the game.

    • Emmanuel Stalling says:

      He is in the top ten in steals AND blocks. If I knew nothing else about him, that would be enough, but he could destroy any center, in any era. David Robinson and Ewing were no match, and Shaq had to wait until he retired. The only reason he couldn’t outdo Kareem is because of Magic’s brilliance. If he played during Wilt and Russell’s era, they would both have 0 championships.

  6. temmy says:

    I want to see my country(Nigeria) produce another player like him.

  7. Duv says:

    Hakeem is the reason I ever started watching and playing basketball. What a legend!

  8. KG definitely plays the right way-a legend in the making-first time ballot hall of famer 🙂 !!!

  9. Awe man that Legends luncheon was really awesome to watch. I didn’t know they did that-my first time watching that. It brung me way back to my growing up days. Seeing all of them in one room reminds me that they were the ones that got me into my playground & high school ball when i started watching ball in the “80’s. The Dream & all the rest is sooooo cool to still see them honored for what they do today. Even though i’m die hard Celts fan, i’m also a fan of the game who appreciates the game being played the right way like all The Legends did back then. Because what they did was bring basketball to the forefront of American culture right there w/ baseball & football. The “60’s Legends truly popularized it mainly my Celts-Russell 🙂 !!! Then the ABA/NBA “76 merger & really blew up in the “80’s & The Doctor really fascinated me w/ his style & finesse that got me really playing ball. This sport with out a doubt, saved a lot of lives! I know it saved mines even though i didn’t play in college & so on-because i went to the playground instead of getting lost most times when i could’ve ended up who know’s where & played in high school.
    Having said that:
    I thank all you Legends-you truly are Legends-for contributing what you have to society as you have-all of you from Russull, Cous, Auerbach, Wilt The Stilt, Robertson to Dr. J, Bird, Magic, Jordon, The Dream & on down the line from my growing up days-THANK YOU!!! No disrespect to current & last 10-15 years of players but only a hand full play the right way & them same hand full don’t act like they are entitled to where they are like Russell,The Dream & all the other Legends-THANK GOODNESS FOR THE LEGENDS!!!

  10. 416 says:

    Great to see Rodney back out there, I never forget the 8th seed nuggets upsets the sonics. He got great handle and range for his size, has a PF body which can bang with some of the best in the league.

  11. sym says:

    Was Ralph Sampson there at the brunch? Many former Rockets were there…but didn’t see him. Maybe they just showed pix of those getting awards or speaking…odd

  12. prix says:

    the foot work speak for itself…congrats…

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  16. Patty says:

    We congratulate Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem is a wonderful person & Great player.

  17. RocketsFan says:

    Congratulations! The ’90s Rockets is why I love the NBA! I remember seeing Olajuwon at the airport & he is even taller in person than I imagined. How wonderful that these players still keep in touch and are still a part of the NBA community.

  18. Jason Page says:

    I remember these players as a Sonic fan and some DARN good games in the 80’s and 90’s!

    • Jesse says:

      Absolutely right… Very good series between the Rockets and Sonics during those years… Basketball isn’t anything like it was back in the 80’s and 90’s… Level of competition was much greater