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
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
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
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.