Akeem Olajuwon:- NY Times Article – Basketball’s New Force – 1983-April-4th


This is an article that I have liked for so very long.

It speaks to the power of having a dream.

Being led by those who God can trust with what he has endowed you with.

Learning how to carry the length.

As well as staying out of the way.



New York Times

Basketball’s New Force


Date Published:- April 4, 1983

Credit…The New York Times Archives

See the article in its original context from

April 4, 1983, Section C

About the Archive

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996.

To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions.

SUDDENLY he is the most towering, if not the most terrifying, player in college basketball. Akeem Abdul Olajuwon has upstaged both Ralph Sampson and Patrick Ewing by the sheer strength that he projects with his presence and potential. Now there are three young centers who will dominate the National Basketball Association for the next decade and Akeem Olajuwon might be the best of the three. But he is only justifying his name.

”Olajuwon, it means being on top,” he said. But as a youngster growing up as a soccer goaltender in Lagos, Nigeria, where his father is a cement-dealer, he often was bullied by other boys in his neighborhood.

”I had fights all the time,” Akeem Olajuwon remembered with his slow smile. ”I was too tall, too thin. They were picking on me because I was abnormal. Too tall.”

Nobody bullies 7-foot, 240-pound Akeem Olajuwon now, on or off a basketball court. Suddenly the African member of the Phi Slama Jama fraternity, alias the University of Houston team, is not only too tall but too good. He’s also too smart to fall for the fast money. Even if the Phi Slama Jamas win the national college basketball championship here tonight, the 20-year-old sophomore won’t be tempted to declare himself eligible for the National Basketball Association draft.

”No, not for me,” he was saying now. ”I will stay next season, then play in the Olympics for Nigeria, then stay my final season to get my degree in business technology.”

In a black velour running suit, Akeem Olajuwon was standing tall among two dozen sportswriters. In the rear, some of them had climbed up on chairs to hear him better as he talked about how his friend from the Houston playgrounds, Moses Malone, had counseled him on remaining in college. The irony, of course, is that the Philadelphia 76ers’ center with the six-year, $13.2 million contract never attended college. After he was graduated from high school in Petersburg, Va., almost a decade ago, he signed with the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association.

”Moses told me to stay in school,” Akeem Olajuwon said. ”He told me not to sign with anybody. He told me people would try to take advantage of me.”

Nobody has taken advantage of him in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. When his Phi Slama Jama fraternity needed him most, he had the best game of his career in a 94-81 triumph over Louisville in Saturday’s semifinals -21 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocked shots. In the second half alone, he had 13 points and 15 rebounds.

”I still have much to learn,” he said. ”Moses Malone told me that in the N.B.A., it takes time. My time will come.” In college basketball, his time has arrived less than two years after he arrived as what Guy Lewis, the Houston coach, calls a ”gift” from an American named Chris Pond, who coached a Central African Republic team while working for the State Department. Chris Pond arranged in 1981 for Akeem Olajuwon, then 18 years old, to visit a few American colleges. On the list were Providence, Georgia Tech and Oregon State as well as Houston.

”The day I arrived in New York, it was cold so I went on to Houston where I was told it was warm,” Akeem Olajuwon said. ”When nobody met me at the airport, I called and the coach told me to take a cab to school. I felt I wasn’t welcome. But the first time I played with the players, I felt welcome.”

Then as now, an American college education appealed more to Akeem Olajuwon and to his parents than the idea of him playing basketball. And he intends to complete that education. His father’s plan was for him to take business courses in order for him to take over his cement business when he returned to Nigeria, but now he might not return to Nigeria to live for several years.

”People in Nigeria dream of going to America to go to school,” he said. ”I am lucky to have the opportunity. My parents don’t know nothing about basketball. On the telephone, I talk to them only of education.”

For three years, Akeem Olajuwon attended Moslem Teachers College in Lagos, the equivalent of a United States high school. For two of those years he played for the Nigerian national basketball team, as he will again in next year’s Olympics at Los Angeles. But when he arrived at Houston, he knew nothing about American basketball.

”He didn’t know how to post up,” Guy Lewis recalls. ”He had no power move to the basket, he had no turnaround shot. He could jump, but he didn’t know when to jump or where to jump.”

Akeem Olajuwon knows now but he’s still not a polished player. But he’s improving with every game. And he’s working to improve. As an African who appreciates the opportunity to get an American education, he also appreciates the opportunity to develop as a basketball player.

”I thought he had a chance to be a good player,” Guy Lewis says, ”but I didn’t think he’d be this good this quickly. He’s far ahead of my timetable for him.”

As a result, Phi Slama Jama has an opportunity to win the championship that always has eluded Guy Lewis, the big 61-year-old Texan who was a forward and co-captain of Houston’s first two teams after World War II ended. Tonight’s game will conclude his 27th season as the coach of the Cougars, still the official nickname but now forgotten ever since Thomas Bonk of The Houston Post coined Phi Slama Jama three months ago.

With 13 slam dunks Saturday, the Phi Slama Jamas have the rulesmakers wondering if the basket should be raised to 12 feet from the present 10 feet.

”That’s ridiculous,” Guy Lewis says, understandably not wanting to detract from many of his players’ ability to hang-glide. ”I like what Abe Lemons says about drilling a hole in the floor and let the little guys drop it in.”

But even Jim Valvano, the North Carolina State coach, prefers to keep the basket where it is. ”Houston put on an awesome display of confidence and talent Saturday, an incredible performance,” he says. ”But there aren’t many teams like Houston who can do that. Leave the basket where it is.”

Leave it where Akeem Olajuwon can do what a 7-footer does best. ”To win the game,” he said, ”we just have to play above the rim.”

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