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Monday, August 13, 2001
Olajuwon: 'I feel like a rookie again'

Hakeem Olajuwon

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors completed a sign-and-trade agreement Thursday night that sends future Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to Canada in exchange for first- and second-round draft picks.

"I feel like a rookie again," Olajuwon said. "I'm excited. It's a new opportunity to establish myself."

Olajuwon, who has played his entire NBA career in Houston, told the Rockets on Wednesday he no longer wanted to play there and owner Les Alexander agreed to work a deal with the Raptors.

"It's safe to say this is one of the toughest days that I've ever had to go through because of what this gentleman has meant to basketball in this city," Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson said in formally announcing the deal.

Olajuwon, a 17-year veteran, turned down the team's final offer of $13 million over three years. ESPN's David Aldridge reported Olajuwon's contract with the Raptors is for three years and $16.7 million.

"I really thought we were going to get him back," Dawson said. "But it became more obvious after the parameters of what he wanted that it was going to be difficult. He is a very competitive person and wanted a chance to compete for another ring."

Olajuwon has two NBA championship rings from the Rockets' back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.

He was not at the news conference announcing the agreement but spoke later on a conference call.

"I don't have something to prove," Olajuwon said. "When I say I feel like a rookie again, I feel like I'm starting over again. It's something new."

Olajuwon hinted that he felt more valued by the Raptors.

"Toronto realized I have value to their organization," Olajuwon said when asked if he felt Houston's interest in him was genuine. "This is a team that has a chance of winning an NBA championship."

Olajuwon has been one of the most enduring success stories in Houston's sports history, and he leaves behind a 20-year legacy.

He arrived from his native Nigeria as a skinny 17-year-old player on the campus at the University of Houston and became a central figure in three straight trips to the Final Four. The Cougars were 88-16 in Olajuwon's three seasons. The Rockets drafted him in the first round in 1984.

"It's just one of those situations in life you have to deal with," Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley said Thursday. "Dream did what he thought was best for himself and his family.

"We've got to keep the rest of our team together and stop breaking us up. It's like a marriage. You can't love your wife if you're always leaving."

The addition of Olajuwon and the signings of Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams, Jerome Williams and Vince Carter (to a long-term extension) have made Toronto one of the favories to win the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors advanced to the seventh game of the second round in the playoffs last season before being eliminated by Philadelphia.

The Raptors gave up their own lottery-protected No. 1 draft pick in 2002 and a second-round pick in 2002 acquired earlier this summer from Detroit.

Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald said he wasn't concerned about the 38-year-old's health, even though a blood clot in Olajuwon's leg threatened his career last season.

"Our doctors have talked extensively with the Houston doctors and were comfortable that there are no serious concerns that may pop up," Grunwald said.

Mobley said fans should not criticize Olajuwon for his move.

"If somebody out there makes a decision, Dream's not going to be mad at them," Mobley said. "So who are you to say you're mad at Dream cause of what he chose? That's the problem with society now. People think it should be their way."

For coach Rudy Tomjanovich, trading Olajuwon was almost like ripping the team logo from the floor of Compaq Center. He said the parting was amiable.

"When I talked to Dream, we had a positive conversation," Tomjanovich said Wednesday. "Dream is a champion and he has come up with a situation where he feels he can go for another ring."

Olajuwon's 17th and final season with the Rockets was rocky.

He thought it would be his last season until it started. He felt so good, he decided to play on, which led to an ugly midseason squabble with the Rockets that included a request to be cut.

Olajuwon and Tomjanovich settled that dispute, but then a blood clot in Olajuwon's leg threatened his career. Medication helped get him back on the court.

After the season, the Rockets said they wanted to keep Olajuwon, but only if they could fit him under their salary cap.

Olajuwon played in 58 games for the Rockets last season, averaging 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds and making 49.8 percent of his shots.

In his 17 seasons with the Rockets, Olajuwon averaged 22.5 points and 11.4 rebounds. He is the NBA's career blocked shots leader with 3,740 and a 14-time All-Star.

Olajuwon was named as one of the NBA's 50 greatest players and was on the 1996 gold medal-winning Olympic basketball team.

"It's just going to be different because he's been in Houston for so long," former Rockets teammate Sam Mack said. "When they call out the starting lineup and you don't see No. 34 what will you do then? It's going to be interesting. It will be interesting now to see what they do with the team."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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