Every great player has one thing in common. There will come a time in their career when they have to call the quits. However, it’s easier said than done. Playing basketball is all they know, it’s all they’ve been doing their whole adult life.
Shaq could have retired after eighteen dedicated seasons but instead he signed with the Celtics for the veteran’s minimum. A part of me feels that teams like the Celtics only sign aging former all-stars for media exposure and not to improve their teams. This might have been true in the case of Hakeem Olajuwon.
On August 2, 2001 Olajuwon was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Toronto Raptors for a 2002 1st round draft pick (Bostjan Nachbar) and a 2002 2nd round draft pick (Tito Maddox). At age 39, Olajuwon had a choice, either retire or play for the Raptors. He chose the latter. Seeing Hakeem Olajuwon in anything other than a Houston Rockets jersey is mind boggling to an NBA fan. The fact that he would play for a Canadian team also adds to the strangeness of the situation.
The 2001-02 Raptors team was built around Vince Carter and coached by Lenny Wilkens. Just so you can impress your friends with some trivia, other notable players on the ’01-02 Raptor squad that played alongside Hakeem were rookie Carlos Arroyo, Keon Clark, Dell Curry, Antonio Davis, Eric Montross, Morris Peterson, and Jerome Williams.
The 2001-02 Raptors season was only their seventh year in the league after the NBA expanded into Canada in 1995. Prior to trading for Olajuwon, the Raptors finished the 2000-01 season 47-35 (the best in franchise history) and made it to the playoffs, losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (4-3) to the Philadelphia 76ers. They already had an above average team. Were they hoping Hakeem would be the next great addition that would help them rise to the top? Most-likely not. The Raptors were hoping to increase attendance, jersey sales, and television ratings while Hakeem was an aging all-star that couldn’t let go of the game. And I don’t blame him for not letting go. If you are physically able to compete, then compete. As strange as it was to see Brett Favre in a New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings uniform, I accepted it. His home team didn’t want him and he was still able to compete. The same thing happened with Olajuwon.
The Dream’s first season with the Raptors would also be his last season in the NBA. In the 2001-02 season Hakeem Olajuwon played 67 games, starting 37 of them, averaging 7 points and 6 rebounds a game. The ’01-02 Toronto Raptors finished the regular season 42-40 and made the playoffs, eventually losing to the Detroit Pistons (3-2) in the Eastern Conference First Round. The last NBA game Hakeem Olajuwon would ever play was on May 2, 2002 in the Raptors losing effort to the Pistons.
The Nigerian born Olajuwon would eventually be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. His NBA career started in1984 as the 1st round, 1st overall selection of the Houston Rockets. During his tenure in the association he won two NBA championships, two finals MVP awards, one regular season MVP award, three defensive player of the year awards, and made twelve all-star team appearances. Most people remember all of this about Olajuwon, but they forget, once upon a time he was a Toronto Raptor.
Stats used in this post were from basketball-reference.com