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THE LIEGE LORD OF NOXZEMA
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 28, 1983
Houston's Akeem Olajuwon came out of Nigeria to give a new meaning to the term "faze jhob"
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November 28, 1983

The Liege Lord Of Noxzema

Houston's Akeem Olajuwon came out of Nigeria to give a new meaning to the term "faze jhob"

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Yes, he thinks about it. He replays it over and over on the videocassette of his mind. He even acts it out for friends, and strangers—standing up and pretending to jockey for position, turn, boulder the territory in the lane, to do absolutely everything he'd done all through Houston's sterling season, all through the NCAA tournament, all through that magnificent championship game. Except one thing. As a precaution against crashing his head through the thin slats of his apartment ceiling, he doesn't jump.

He didn't jump that star-crossed night in New Mexico either. Of course, there was no need to. The shot, by North Carolina State's Dereck Whittenburg, was terrible, a 35-foot shanked putt from 40 feet, a wounded balloon that was losing air fast and would die short. He knew that. He would take the long rebound, hold the ball and then straighten things out in overtime. He knew that, too. Just because everything had gone wrong for all the other Houston Cougars on the night they would be kings; just because their coach, Guy Lewis, had ordered the fastest, quickest, runningest, dunkingest, most creatively athletiç college basketball team in years, the already legendary Phi Slamma Jamma, into a virtual stall; just because Cougar Forward Clyde Drexler hadn't been able to breathe without fouling somebody, and Forward Larry Micheaux had refused to mix it up or guard anybody, and Guard Michael Young had faded selfishly into one-on-one land, and Swingman Benny Anders had just now barely missed an interception at midcourt from where he might have swooped in untouched for the winning basket; just because Micheaux wasn't even in the game to help him rebound—further evidence of the braindrain on the bench—just because all that had happened didn't mean he couldn't win this thing by himself.

He took a gargantuan stride up the lane when Anders lunged for the ball way out front. But then, suddenly, the shot was in the air. The ball was far above his head, where he couldn't block it or tip it or swat it or catch it or terrorize it as he had been doing for all his infant basketball life. And so he turned to hold position and wait for a rebound and, in OT, the national championship. Hakeem (The Hadream) Abdul Ajibola Olajuwon is still waiting.

"Faze jhob," Olajuwon says as he shakes his head and stares at the floor in his Houston apartment while recalling Whittenburg's shot that fell short of the rim and the subsequent dunk at the buzzer by the Wolfpack's Lorenzo Charles that clinched the 1983 national title. "The man give me severe faze jhob."

Live by the sword.... Regardless of how you define faze jhob—The In-Your-Face Basketball Book translates the more orthodox version of the term, "face job," as "an individual offensive or defensive move so captivating that it wins, for one player for one moment, the karma of face"—there may have been only one greater irony in the 1982-83 college basketball season than that at the ultimate moment the ultimate dunkster was vanquished by a dunk. And this was that this marvelous facial artiste, the sport's brand new liege lord of Noxzema, is a 7-foot-tall Yoruban tribesman from the filthy streets of Lagos, Nigeria who subsists on oysters and Bisquick and who until two years ago did not know what a faze jhob was.

Whether N.C. State performed a miracle or Houston simply screwed up in those final 40 minutes of the season now seems inconsequential compared with the nation's discovery of Olajuwon. Specifically, what happened was that a gentle, muffle-mouthed, supposedly undisciplined African, for God's sake, who began the season as little more than a curiosity—with the usual "spearchucker" slurs—emerged as the most feared college basketball star in nearly a decade. The real Ralph Sampson.

After he cut a swath through the Southwest Conference, inhaling great gobs of knowledge virtually by the minute—"learning to play in English," in the words of an opposing coach—and then imposed his will on a Maryland slowdown in Houston's first game in the NCAA tournament, Olajuwon trashed the rest of a tough card: Memphis State (21 points, six rebounds, two blocks); Villanova (20, 13 and eight); Louisville (21, 22 and eight). And, yes, North Carolina State (20, 18 and 11). Immediately the world, not merely dinner, was Olajuwon's oyster.

Akeem the Dream was the first person from a non-winning team to earn Most Valuable Player honors in the NCAA tournament in 17 years. His defense and shot-blocking—he had 175 for the season—evoked Russellian rhapsodies. Unlike Georgetown's Pat Ewing, who prefers to hang back beneath the rim in a semisquat so he can readily leap in to the block. Olajuwon came roaring out to cover areas Bill Russell used to, six to seven feet from the basket, where he would take off in full flail with the quickest jump anyone could remember. Moreover, about the middle of February Olajuwon began asking for the ball, demanding it, wanting to score. When he got it he displayed solid square-up form and a feathery touch on his jump shot to go with his practically unstoppable power move to the basket. Oh, yes, he also squeezed every rebound available, right up to that final Albuquerque air ball when there was no rebound to squeeze.

Going into last season Olajuwon had played a little more than four years of organized ball, much of it in some of the more esoteric tank towns in sport—Casablanca, Morocco? Luanda, Angola? Lagos for—what was it? Moslem Teachers College? Yeah, right. He had no concept of the techniques of basketball. Anything on the rim was fair game. If it moved in the key, belt it. And so there he was last November—raw, unpolished, a brute. But an inevitable force, too.

Hubie Brown, coach of the New York Knicks, had only to watch Olajuwon on television once last season before recognizing, Brown says, "a massive strength and intimidation coming off the screen. The explosive jump—a lot of guys have that once, but this kid keeps jumping and jumping, blocking and blocking. And now we know he can score. No wonder Moses Malone practices against Akeem all the time. After Akeem, all our NBA guys are chopped liver."

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