Olajuwon bought an unoccupied Italianate mansion on 41�acres,
strategically wedged between the Johnson Space Center and Clear Lake. He plans
to sell off parcels to developers. "Islam is not about giving up
anything," Olajuwon says. "It's about balance, doing things in
moderation. You still do business, but you don't do greed. The concept is
simplicity. But it's deceptive"--here he laughs--"because to simplify
Toward the end of
his NBA career Olajuwon would spend off-seasons in Jordan, studying Arabic so
he could read the Koran in the original. Now he inverts that schedule. He
spends three or four months in Houston, checking up on his investments and
tutoring NBA big men. The rest of the year he's in a farmhouse outside Amman,
with his wife, Dalia, and their five children, ages 10 to two. Abisola, his
daughter with his college sweetheart, Lita Richardson, will be a 6'3"
sophomore center at Oklahoma next season.
No deal has meant
more to Olajuwon than his very first real estate play, in the early 1990s. John
Ballis, a member of his real estate team, took him by a historic bank building
on Main Street, built in 1928 by future Texas governor Ross Sterling. "It
was boarded up and awful looking, and could be had for a song," Ballis
recalls. "I'm saying, 'Oh, it could be a hotel with a nice restaurant.'
Hakeem quit listening. I went home that night and said to my wife, 'I don't
understand--Hakeem doesn't seem interested.' My wife said, 'Maybe it's because
it looks like a mosque.'"
The two returned a
short time later, and Ballis assured Olajuwon that the old bank could become
anything he wanted. After three years' renovation the Islamic Da'Wah Center
opened in 1995. Today the old bank vault houses a library of sacred texts, and
prayer services take place twice daily beneath a gilded dome. Da'Wah means
invitation but also has connotations of information and welcome. "That's
Arabic," Olajuwon says. "To explain one word, you need many
Or, as any
Koran-reading, post-play revolutionizing, architecture-loving real estate baron
will tell you, to simplify is complicated.