Abu Dhabi : A role model for any young athlete, thanks to his elegance both on and off the court, seven-foot NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon, literally had over 60 Emirati children looking up to him at a basketball developmental clinic at Al Jazira Sports Club on Tuesday.
The former Houston Rockets star who won virtually everything there is to win in the game is in the UAE to attend the NBA Jamfest at Yas Island in his role as an NBA ambassador.
And despite his towering frame, the Nigerian born Olajuwon fitted in with his young audience as easily as he used to torment opposing NBA defences during his 18 year career.
"It's easy because it's something that you love," said the 47-year-old giant in a courtside chat with XPRESS. "It's a lifestyle that revolves around the passion for the sport of basketball and now you can make it cross over to encourage sports and activity for the youth."
Switching to the hot subject of the NBA, and the hotter subject of LeBron James' controversial decision to leave hometown team Cleveland Cavaliers and team up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade at Miami Heat back in July, the pious Olajuwon refrained from condemning the young superstar.
"You have to explore," he said. "It's an independent decision by LeBron. If I had to decide, maybe I would not do that."
"I'm not faulting him for leaving. You can explore and I can't judge him as it depends on how he feels. But I think about what he sacrificed, because he has the whole league behind him. He is the face of the NBA and he was willing to share that with two other people. So from that point of view, he has maximised [his outlook]. From the way he was last year, this year he is sharing the limelight with two other guys."
And for those who believe devout Muslim athletes are at a physical disadvantage while observing the strict fasting regime during the holy month of Ramadan, then Olajuwon was the best example of proving the opposite. "It does not work against you," said the man popularly referred to by fans as ‘Hakeem The Dream' during his playing days. "Without food, you are faster and have a lot of energy. You notice that when you eat, you feel tired. So really it's the opposite, it's just mindset. My stats went up [during Ramadan]. I played better, so it should help you."