Hakeem Olajuwon


This Scoot is for the appreciation of the greatest athlete in history, Hakeem Olajuwon.  He is the foundational Scoot, for all else is built upon his wisdom.

He taught me at a very young age, if you have a dream, imagine it, and then commit to it. Then all you must do is believe it.

It helps tremendously when a whole city believes it with you because they’ve been with you almost every step of the way.  Having fallen in love with basketball and The Dream in the same year as a kid was really special.

Hakeem Olajuwon gifted my childhood with his inspiring brilliance. As a young man, he gave me proof that that dreams come true.

How and what I do with this Scoot will have to wait until I’ve had a chance to discuss it with him.

Until then, it’s simply a metric.

Content Block 1 – 10/16/2022

Excerpt from Brandon Awbrey’s asimov:

Goodbye Season Tickets

I was hoping with the Rockets theme, I might write myself into a sweet set of season tickets. That bit about the kitchens and restaurants certainly didn’t help my case. I’ve got one last play, sort of a go for broke, knockout punch. In Houston, we call this kind of play The Kiss of Death.

In October of 2020, Daryl Morey, the innovative General Manager of the Houston Rockets, quit. Two months later two MVP superstars had run away, Morey was managing the 76ers, and the Rockets went from perianal contender to the very worst team in the NBA. What exactly happened is unclear, but an event a year earlier almost certainly played a part in Morey burning down the house on his way out of town.

On October 4th, 2019, Morey tweeted something that was politically offensive to China. This created quite a controversy, both from freedom of speech and business management points of view. China was a huge market for NBA broadcasts and merchandize, it was a costly decision.

I’ll defend Daryl Morey’s right to say whatever the hell he wants to say until my last breath. I’ll also defend both the NBA and the Rockets, as private organizations, for their right to support or not to support Morey’s right to say what he thinks as well. This right is foundational to my identity as a proud American.

The point I’d like to consider is the “private organization” point. I’m not making a legal argument. This is a functional argument about value.

I lived in China for two years. Having very limited ability to communicate, you always start with the basics; your family, your job, your hometown, and what sports you like. If I said basketball to a Chinese person, and they knew what I was talking about, ice was broken. They might not know Houston is a place, or where Texas was on the map, but if they knew anything about basketball, they knew the Houston Rockets.

In 2002, Chinese superstar Yao Ming became the second international player selected by the Rockets with the number one draft pick. It was like a Disney sequel, two dominant centers, both heroes in their home countries. Yao Ming was China’s first NBA superstar, and because of this, the Rockets became China’s team.

When I’d meet a Chinese Rockets fan, the lack of communication was almost beneficial because I had to keep things superficial, or risk becoming a meme on Chinese social media. American broke down in tears in the streets of Chengdu, sobbing about the Rockets, and the irony of his own personal history.

My valuation of the Rockets didn’t change when Daryl Morey tweeted in 2019. Nor did it change when the Rockets blew two chances to take out the Golden State Warriors in 2018 and 2019. It didn’t change when they traded Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul. It probably went up a couple buckets when they traded James Harden. My appreciation of the Rockets has wavered only once. Oh, and it crashed hard, worse than crypto in twenty-two, way worse.

On August 2nd, 2001, The Houston Rockets traded Hakeem Olajuwon to the Toronto Raptors for draft picks. On that day, my personal valuation fell to the level of betrayal. Yao Ming, innocent in all this, was still in China. The Rockets became dumpster divers, only winning 28 games. They won the first pick in the draft lottery, which they used to draft Yao Ming.

This wasn’t Hollywood, where you could make a Showtime sequel by replacing Kareem/Magic with Shaq/Kobe or Lebron/Lebrow and still pull in the same box office. This was Houston, Texas, where real people worked real jobs and produced valuable product.[1]  You don’t just run back the formula, replace your foreign-born big-man with a dominant big-man from another country.[2] Rockets basketball wasn’t formulistic, it was a dream driven by the most creative big-man to ever play the game.

For eleven years, I did not follow the Rockets. That was a big loss for me, and a because of some naming rights I’d acquired, somewhat of a personal tragedy. A loss of value that was foundational to my own personal wealth.

When an athlete brings a championship to a city, he becomes part of the fabric of the city. Often, it’s because they represent some fundamental characteristic of the city they play for. For example, here in Texas, we have San Antonio, whose archetype hero seems to be a grumpy old man. And Dallas, whose foundational principle seems to be, let’s try to be just like Houston.[3]  

In Houston, we have two fundamental archetypes for our heroes. The first, the ultra-hero, with the superpowers of moral strength, absolute faith, and unwavering courage. This is the universal hero archetype, across cultures, though few cities are lucky enough to get one. I was lucky enough to watch one in July 2021. It was another athletic big man with Nigerian roots who wore the number 34 on his jersey. I was happy when Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrated his championship victory in Milwaukee in July. Not nearly as happy as when KPJ dropped fifty on the Bucks in April.[4]

Hakeem Olajuwon would be a hero in any city. You cannot write better legendary mythology than his actual story.

Raised by a hardworking, middle-class family in Lagos, Nigeria, Olajuwon played soccer growing up. Tall, he played goalie, but was nimble and athletic enough to get out and run the field. In high school, he picked up a basketball for the first time, within months was on the national team. An American scout arranged a visa and invitation for him to visit colleges in the U.S. His parents dug into their life savings to pay for his airfare. Hakeem arrived at JFK in New York during winter, took one step outside to catch a taxi, and realized he had zero desire to live in a cold place. He went back inside the airport and changed his ticket to Houston, as he’d heard it was warm.

Hakeem flew to Texas and worked out for the coaches of the University of Houston, before even catching any sleep after his long journey. He was offered a scholarship, redshirting his first year. By the following summer, Hakeem was working out in the gym with Moses Malone, Rockets superstar and reigning NBA MVP. The next few years were a whirlwind, the Cougars become a national sensation, known as Phi Slama Jama, the tallest fraternity in Texas. The Cougars were amazing, run and gun and high flying, fun to watch, and they dominated the NCAA. Can you imagine how awesome that would have been for a middle schooler in Texas just getting into basketball? I don’t have to.

The Cougars made it to the final four all three years Olajuwon played, though they did not win a championship. In 1984 Olajuwon declared for the draft, knowing the Houston Rockets had a 50% chance of landing the first pick.

And they did. Hakeem Olajuwon was the first pick of the 1984 draft, the most talented draft in NBA history.[5]  Hakeem joined second year player Ralph Sampson to form the Twin Towers. Two years later, Hakeem and Ralph took the Rockets to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. The young Rockets lost in six games.

The Rockets lost Ralph Sampson due to injury and rebuilt the team around Olajuwon. There were several years of mediocre Rockets ball and supreme dominance by Olajuwon. It took several injuries, a trade request, new teammates and a new coach – Rockets legend Rudy Tomjanovich – before the Rockets finally got back on track, losing a heartbreaking second round series to Seattle in 1993.

The 1993-1994 season started out with a record-breaking winning streak. Coach Rudy had a plan that those of us who had been watching Hakeem play for half their lives thought was obvious. The plan was to give the rock to Dream and be ready to hit a shot. There was not one single defender in the NBA who could stop The Dream one-on-one. Nobody. When he got the ball down in the post, he demanded a double or triple team. It wasn’t like today’s NBA when a double team means waving your arms in your opponent’s face. If you were going to help defend against Olajuwon, you had to commit, set your feet, get your balance, and put your body on the line. That always left one or two Rockets wide open. The rest of the team was fully bought into the concept. Hakeem didn’t need a side-kick star, everybody on the team was expected to step up when they were open and hit their shots. They did. It was a workingman’s professionalism, what’s expected of you if you grew up in Houston. You’re an NBA shooter, you been taking thousands of shots a day since you were a kid, you get a wide-open look in a game, you hit that. Hakeem didn’t hold the ball, he beat his defenders or found you and you hit it. That doesn’t work, you get the ball back to Hakeem and try again. The defense was equally simple. You stick to your man like glue, but he beats you, you funnel him towards The Dream, he’ll block that shot or force the guy to kick it out.

It was the best regular season the Rockets ever had. They won 58 games, and with Jordan playing baseball, Olajuwon was the clear-cut favorite for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. The Rockets rolled through Portland in the first round of the playoffs but went down 0-2 to Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns in the second round, losing both games at home with leads in the fourth quarter. The Houston Chronicle, taking an entirely different approach than Sports Illustrated, called us Choke City. The Rockets fought back hard, winning two in Arizona and one back home, setting up a dramatic game seven in Houston, where Clutch City was born.

Houston took Utah down in five games in the Western Conference finals. The slogan for this playoff run was “Believe It.”  Houston believed it. The Rockets had been to the finals twice before, but this one was different. Hakeem didn’t need to boast or make predictions or talk down his opponents. He was humble but focused, and all of us who’d been watching him play from the beginning knew he was ready.

Houston faced New York in the finals, and it was a dog fight. I almost lost my mind when the Game 5 broadcast was interrupted to follow the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase. The Rockets were down 3-2 for the final two games in Houston. In game six, facing elimination, Hakeem had the greatest block in NBA history, denying John Starks a game winning shot at the buzzer.[6]

Hakeem didn’t have a sidekick; he had a team of heroes. Kevin Costner, you should have done your market research, there was already an American Mad Max by way of Florida. Vernon Maxwell was almost exactly the kind of player Michael Jordan was, except without all the vanity. Vernon wasn’t vain, instead, he was bat-shit crazy. Sam Cassell, the rookie, owning the offense, making the Knicks look the fool. Before he was Big-Shot Bob with seven rings, he was Robert Horry with the tomahawk jam and relentless D on the biggest stage. Other games it was Kenny Smith, Otis Thorpe, Mario Ellie or Carl Herrera. It was as if Hakeem got to the locker room early, choose a random teammate, and sprinkled a little Dream dust on their uniform before the game.

The Rockets won game seven of the finals at home and brought the city of Houston its first major sports championship. We Believed It. It was true.

What came next? It’s a travesty of history that the Rocket’s championship repeat came sandwiched in between Michael Jordan’s double three-peat. I want to write about the second run, but another 20,000 words about basketball might be too much. It is the greatest story in the history of sports, and has so many tangents and connections, I don’t want to try to condense the glory. When there is a Scoot for the Houston Rockets, that story will be my first contribution to the scoot-chain. I’ll spin that into legend that will go down as the greatest tale of team genius in the history of mankind.

Hakeem Olajuwon is not the GOAT because he was the greatest basketball player that has ever lived. I concede that to Jordan without argument. Hakeem Olajuwon is the GOAT because he made every player around him better by an order of magnitude. Ask any player on those two championship teams, and they’ll tell you the same thing – they played beyond their limits because of Olajuwon. The real Dream Team was Hakeem’s team, inspired, relentless, genius. That other Dream Team, Michael Jordan and his corporate sponsored dirty traveling vanity band.

The second type of hero that personifies the city of Houston is a different kind of hero. Luckily, the Rockets were able to fill their entire roster in those championship years with these kinds of heroes. Heroes like Mario Ellie, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Sam Cassel, Matt Bullard, Clyde Drexler, Carl Herrera and Scott Brooks. These heroes fit a certain kind of mold, a kind of reluctant hero role, one well personified by the astronauts like Dick Scobee, as well as the engineers in Mission Control who brought the astronauts of Apollo 13 back home from lunar orbit alive. And further back than that, the roughnecks and engineers who turned a mosquito infested backwater swamp into the Energy Capital of the World. And even beyond that, to one of America’s greatest and most original heroes, Sam Houston himself.

The common characteristic of these heroes is they shut up and got the job done, by whatever means necessary.

That’s the reason José Altuve will always be a hero in Houston.

When the Rockets traded Olajuwon, they will tell you it was a smart move. They’d offered him a contract, and he didn’t take it. They traded him, and got draft picks, smart basketball management. Sure, good management, but did they not just witness one of the greatest hero stories in all of sports? Did they not know what value Olajuwon had created for the city, exclusive of the Rocket’s bottom line?

Hakeem should still be on the roster. If were my team – If I were responsible for my city’s team – Hakeem would start every game, take that jump ball and sit down at the first whistle. When I needed a win, he’d be out there in the last minute as well. Supermax, for life, for a minute a game. That’s what it’s worth to me.

The Dream forgave the Rockets before I did. He played very little in Toronto and retired before the next season. The Rockets hung up the number 34 jersey, and he has been a fixture at Rockets games ever since.

It took me much, much longer to get over it. The Dream’s story and Houston are so intertwined, and so complete, that I could not fathom that anybody could make such a bad value judgement. Rockets basketball might have been a business, at one point. After The Dream brought home the Championship in 1994, it became mythology.

Hakeem wrote it best himself, recounting in his autobiography how he was discussing nicknames with a very young Shaquille O’Neal. Hakeem writes, “I liked my nickname for the same reason, it rhymed and it had the right meaning:  The Dream. My whole life was too good to be true. I told him that and he smiled.”[7]   

Listen Rockets management, just for clarity: When someone has a life too good to be true, you don’t trade him to Canada. Remember the part in this fable about choosing Houston because of the warm weather? Houston dodged a bullet with that one. What if The Dream had come back to Texas hooked on curling and wearing a Rush T-shirt? The inhumanity!

There was no means to accomplish this, there is a salary cap in professional sports to promote competition, but consider a hypothetical. How much money do you think the Rockets could have raised if they’d let the fans contribute to keeping Hakeem in Houston? I was thirty at the time, had two small children and a good job but also a lot of expenses. How much could I realistically contributed? I’d say a thousand dollars, easy. How many fans would have paid that much to keep their hero in town? 50,000? For sure. 100,000? Probably. More? Maybe not, but how many would have contributed something? Half a million? Almost certainly if we’re counting the little Dreams and their piggy banks. $100 million would have easily been raised, if it had been allowed.

That value, whatever it could have been, still does not reflect Olajuwon’s value to Houston. For me, as corny as it sounds, “Believe It,” is what made a difference in my life. Because of The Dream, I do believe it. Seeing that faith transform into victory as a young man has influenced every aspect of my life. When I encounter a difficult engineering problem, my attitude is always “Somebody is going to figure this out, it might as well be me.”  Inspiration is evidence that the unbelievable can be believed. When a group of people value a shared inspiration, it’s a multiplicative bonding effect, much stronger than any individual inspiration. That is the true value of genius.

We may never know the true genius value of the Houston Rockets in October of 2019. That value cannot be measured in currency. That value was pure and fundamental, across cultures and beyond borders. The United States and China value so many things differently, it’s an absolute shame that Morey’s tweet destroyed a common shared value. That value was not created by and did not belong to Daryl Morey, nor Tilman Fertitta, the owner of Rockets, nor to any single player. That value was created by the fans, fans that did “Believe It,” fans that supported the Rockets whether they could afford tickets and merchandize or not. Morey might have tweeted his personal opinion, but he had so many followers because he was the GM of the Rockets.

I will state my opinion on Morey’s tweet only because it’s illustrative of exactly what I’ve written about – property-based wealth, the source of most conflict. The king’s gold. The status of Hong Kong is a contentious issue that goes way beyond 1997, or even the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It goes further back to the British Empire’s conquest by force in 1839, all over this valuable piece of land. It was Imperial China before that, but before that, it changed hands hundreds of times, empires and khans and warlords and gangsters and back far enough to when a nomadic fishing tribe just happened to climb the right hill and established a camp. They lived their happy lives there for about six years, until a deranged nasty giant and his squad of hormone crazed teenage boys, who didn’t yet have exposure to the genius invention of sports, slaughtered the male fishermen and settled down with their women.

I’m not picking sides in that fight. It’s something that will never be settled, unless we just decide to stop fighting over property.

The systematic way to accomplish that is to use something other than property to measure value.

Let’s just say old Daryl’s motivations were pure, and he was just trying to help the world like he was an actual big baller, instead of a just a highly paid professional who worked for a billionaire. Maybe he tweeted without thinking about the implications. Let’s imagine for a moment there was kid from Hong Kong, who came to the U.S. to study at the University of Houston in the 1980s, and of course fell in love with basketball, The Dream, and the Rockets. He goes back to Hong Kong, starts some business, and become wealthy. He becomes the Rockets Billionaire because he always wears Rockets colors on game day and is known to have breakfast club parties with employees and friends to watch the Rockets. After the handover and the accession of Yao Ming, he becomes unofficial basketball ambassador to fans in Shenzhen and Guangzhou and gets a reputation throughout the region as a civic and business leader. He maintains good relationships with both local and national party leadership. In 2019, fearing a crisis, he starts to work with people on both sides, since they’re all Chinese, and develops some peaceful compromises he thinks both sides will accept. He finally gets his ideas in order and writes up a paper, and then flies to Party HQ in Beijing to discuss his proposal. He dresses up in his Harden #13 Jersey, since that’s his thing, and even though it’s not a game day, he’s got to live up to his reputation. It’s morning of October 5th, 2019 when he walks into the conference room, and instead of greeting him, all the party big shots give him the death stare. He’s like, “What’s up with you guys?” somebody hands him a phone with a shot of Morey’s tweet.

Daryl, you think anybody in China is going to listen to Rockets Billionaire, or even just Rockets Taxi Driver? People had to change their personal values – their identities – because you made a value judgement about a dispute that has nothing to do with you.

China is not free from responsibility in this fiasco. I’m not sure why anyone in China cares what this American jackass who couldn’t manage a championship in eight years with the greatest offensive player in a generation on his roster thinks. Daryl, maybe you should have kept your opinions to yourself and considered the offensive wisdom of ancient philosopher 飞猪.[8] “I don’t think any system where you let one player just dribble and shoot EVERY SINGLE TIME…I don’t think that works.” 

Daryl’s tweet was a tremendous destruction of value.

Those values shared between Chinese and American Rockets fans, as well as Rocket fans all over the world, were values shared between peoples, and not between nations. Sports are civil relations between people, not ideologies or governments. They are the public’s domain. If you don’t understand that, I suggest you watch one of the great historical movies about Sino-American relations, Forrest Gump.[9] Starring Tom Hanks, who also played an astronaut in Apollo 13. Tom Hanks – historical accuracy. Tom Hanks, who said, “There’s no cryin’ in baseball.”

In the movie, Forrest is always in the right place at the right time, it was a story too good to be true. That’s right, I’m equivocating trading Hakeem Olajuwon to Toronto with trading Forrest Gump to the Chinese. Or Rocky to Russians. The Dream’s story is fact!

I thought the Rocket’s management was stupid to trade Olajuwon, but the result was a huge increase in real value of the Rocket’s “brand” and franchise. By drafting Yao – a direct result of trading Olajuwon the year before – the Rocket’s went from a team popular on the Gulf Coast and all over Africa, to the number one team in the most populous nation in the world. Yao retired in 2011 but the Rockets remained the most popular franchise in China up until the day of Morey’s tweet. Morey threw away the tremendous franchise value gained by trading Hakeem Olajuwon. Good luck with that kind of value judgement, Philly.

Still bitter? Yes, apparently. And that’s my point. I’m one fan. I place tremendous value on this small but very positive piece of history that touched my life. I appreciate it enough to write about it, but to increase the value of that appreciation, all I really need do is share it. You multiply that across the fanbase, it’s worth more than the $2 billion appraised value of the Rockets franchise. The Rockets franchise is property.

A Scoot could be formed, The Rockets declared genius, and the property title could be released to humanity. I don’t think this would technically violate NBA ownership rules, but if it did, they should change. Essentially, a Scoot of Rockets-nation is formed, a proportional democracy that manages the responsibility for the public good that is Clutch City.

The value of a great team goes beyond property. If you’re a Rockets fan, I don’t care where you came from, what color skin you have, what language you speak, who you sleep with, what religion you practice, who you voted for, or what you had for breakfast.[10] I don’t care about that. If you’re a Rockets fan, you’re my friend. How valuable is that?

Billionaires don’t have to worry. It would take a lot a lot of genius wealth to tempt you into taking a step down from royalty to benevolent dictator. I think we’re talking about a genius level payday for those that can take a giant leap for mankind. They can still exert control, but it becomes a measurable responsibility. They can establish themselves as genius billionaires.

For some billionaires, at least. Ballmer, best stick to a property-based investment scheme, seems like your star either needs a grumpy old man scowling at him, or the spirit of Toronto radio to unleash his inner G.[11]

What I’m suggesting is the ownership model of the Green Bay Packers – without the ownership, just the responsibility. The Packers operate as a non-profit, so it is not really an investment either. With scoot, a pledge would be able to extract the full genius value of a team and pass that along to the next generation of fans. Or they could trade their commitment to some other team, just like James Harden.

The value of a team is much greater than that value of the business. It is a uniting force that crosses cultures and borders and language and generations. Teams, at least the good ones, have more value as a global public good than as private businesses. With Scoot, responsibility for a public good can become a liquid measure of wealth. A team’s value could multiply exponentially with just an inspirational dream from a boy or a girl from anywhere in the world. It’s been done. Proven system that works. It can even work in Dallas – if you give them the exact blueprint.

Put a real human value on that. With this system, you can. See Appendix D for a way to implement this.

Tilman Fertitta can be the benevolent dictator of Rockets-nation, just like Linus in Linuxland. We’ll find the right kind of hero that will bring back those Chinese fans – a kid who knows how to commit to a dream – and we’ll lead a championship parade down the road of global peace. Let them other billionaires fly their rocket ships, a native son who knows how to eat is going show the world how a Texas genius billionaire rolls. In Houston mythology, Hakeem is our Forrest, and Tilman is our Bubba.[12]

Tilman, I’ll take the seats next to The Dream while we work out the details.

[1] Those Enron guys were carpetbaggers.

[2] Unless you are Dallas.

[3] Sorry Dallas, due to what is technically known as a ‘choke order’ I’m legally barred from writing about football in any context. How ‘bout dem Rangers, though.

[4] I may have forgotten to mention Giannis left in the early minutes of that game due to “injury.”  The real story, from those in the know, is that he caught a glimpse of the determination in Porter’s eyes and ran to the locker room in absolute terror.

[5] Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Alvin Robertson, Otis Thorpe and dirty John Stockton were all selected in the first round.

[6] You read that right, Lebron and Giannis.

[7] From Living the Dream by Hakeem Olajuwon, copyright © 1996. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc

[8] Flying Pig

[9] Forrest Gump was released June 23rd, 1994 – two days after The Dream won his first championship. Hollywood knows how to freeride a genius wave.

[10] I don’t think Landry’s owns any breakfast restaurants, but if I’m wrong, I’m open to a negotiated edit of this sentence.

[11] Canada, dethroning the Warriors went a long way towards forgiveness, but that trade had two partners. After you got yours, I heard a lot of basketball talk about who the greatest Raptor of all time was, and I knew what they meant. The technical answer to who was the greatest player to ever wear a Raptors uniform has a very precise answer. Oh, you guys thought we were called H-town because H is for Houston like in kindergarten. Cute.

[12] Who survives the war and runs a successful Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and regularly sees his old athletic friend, Forrest, at Rockets home games.