Hakeem Olajuwon retiring: report

Hakeem (The Dream) Olajuwon will reportedly retire rather than risk back surgery.

Sources told New York Post columnist Peter Vescey that the ailing centre will formally call it a career when Houston Rockets host the Toronto Raptors in their Nov. 2 home opener.

Olajuwon, who resides in Houston, toiled 17 seasons with the Rockets before agreeing to be traded to Toronto for first and second-round draft picks on Aug. 2, 2001.

The 39-year-old Nigerian inked a three-year, $22-million US contract, but persistent back pain -- rumoured to be the result of a disc problem -- appears to have hastened his retirement from the NBA.

"He's going to do something," Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald said. "But we don't know when, and we don't know where.

"It would be a natural though. That might be a day he might do it."

Speculation is Grunwald tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a buyout on the estimated $12 million US remaining in Olajuwon's pact during the off-season.

Should he retire, however, reports suggest the Raptors will be on the hook for only 20 per cent of the amount.

Medical insurance will cover the rest.

Olajuwon arrived in Toronto with Hall of Fame credentials, averaging 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.09 blocked shots and 35.7 minutes in 1,177 games with the Rockets.

Yet he plummeted to career-lows in points (7.1), rebounds (6.0), blocks (1.48), assists (1.1) and minutes (22.6) in 61 relatively ineffective appearances for the Raptors.

Granted, Olajuwon was slowed by back, leg and toe injuries but, ultimately, the aging superstar never truly adjusted to the role intended for him.

The Raptors planned to deploy him at centre and shift incumbent Antonio Davis to his natural power forward alongside fellow all-star Vince Carter at small forward -- a formidable frontcourt.

But Olajuwon proved an awkward fit within an offence designed around Carter and wound up relegated to a reserve role behind energetic Keon Clark, who has since signed with the Sacramento Kings.

Voted one of the NBA's Top-50 players in 2000, Olajuwon ranks among the league's best big-men ever -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, to name just three.

An athletic, graceful giant possessing a soft jumper and keen defensive timing, he is a 14-time NBA all-star and the league's all-time leader with 3,830 blocks.

Drafted first overall out of the University of Houston in 1984, Olajuwon led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994-95.

In 1994, he became the only player in league annals to earn NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP and defensive player of the year honors in the same season.

Yet when injuries limited him to a mere 58 games in 2000-01, the Rockets opted to focus their offence around blossoming point guard Steve Francis.

Olajuwon felt unwanted and rejected Houston's three-year, $13-million US final offer, instead opting for a sign-and-trade deal with Toronto.