HOUSTON -- Hakeem Olajuwon relived a moment from his past, hearing the Houston Rockets' fans chanting "MVP, MVP," just as they did when he won the honor in 1994.
Then, Olajuwon departed to begin his new life away from basketball. And he promised not to look back.
Olajuwon formally announced his retirement before an adoring audience Saturday night, during a ceremony at halftime of the Rockets' game against the Golden State Warriors. The home team retired his No. 34 jersey and hoisted it to the rafters of Compaq Center, where Olajuwon played 17 of his 18 seasons and led Houston to consecutive NBA titles in 1994 and '95.
"It's a wonderful feeling, just to see that you're still so welcome and still so well-received," Olajuwon said. "That was something that was personally satisfying, and I'm very grateful for that."
Olajuwon was an All-Star 12 times, holds the all-time record for career blocked shots and was named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players when the league celebrated its first half-century in business in 1996.
"I don't look at this as the end; it is the beginning of the next phase of my life," Olajuwon said. "You know what you accomplished over the years, and now it is time to sit and watch."
Olajuwon appeared most moved when owner Les Alexander told the fans that a life-sized statue of Olajuwon would be placed at the Rockets' new downtown arena, which opens next season.
"My image at the new stadium -- I think that is the ultimate," Olajuwon said. "That is something you can't express your appreciation for, and your gratitude."
The Rockets won their first NBA title in Alexander's first season as Rockets owner.
"I had the greatest player in the universe on my team; you can't get any better than that," Alexander said. "Without Hakeem, that (title) would have been impossible. Without him, there would be no Clutch City."
Houston was denigrated as "Choke City" when they fell behind Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals in 1994. They made a dramatic rally to win that series, and went on to beat the New York Knicks in a seven-game Finals.
"He's the greatest player in Houston history," Alexander said.
Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds during his career, but he decided to retire after a disappointing final season with Toronto, in which his production slipped to 7.1 points and six rebounds.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.