Yankee Swap Book Review: On the Court with... Hakeem Olajuwon

Yankee Swap Book Review: On the Court with… Hakeem Olajuwon

Does the Dream even know he has biographies for sale for a cent at Goodwill?

Whistle, hold up, 3 second violation

Oh, you know what, it occurs to me that some readers may not know who Hakeem Olajuwon is, and why Matt Christopher would bother to write a biography about him for children.



Hakeem Olajuwon is a Nigerian-born American citizen who almost won the NCAA tournament a bunch of times in college and went on to be one of the best NBA basketball players of all time. Why is he not more famous? His name, mostly, but also because he played at the same time as Michael Jordan. Hakeem Olajuwon did manage to win back-to-back NBA championships with the Houston Rockets, but he did it during that crazy time when Michael Jordan was playing baseball.

But yeah, Hakeem is one of the best basketball players ever, and he retired about 7 years ago. He’s about 6’10” and was really quick, agile and a good shooter for a player his size who could also move to the basket as effectively as anyone ever. He blocked a whole lot of shots. He had a signature move, the “Dream Shake,” (it was really closer to a custom moveset that included 20 different moves that he could transpose into at will) which was nearly unstoppable and a beautiful thing to watch.

Bottom line, though as great as Hakeem was, Michael Jordan was better. If it’s important to remember basketball at all, as those who remember age, I think it’s important to remember just how frickin’ amazing at this game Michael Jordan was.

Oh, and why did Matt Christopher write a book about him? The answer is pretty simple – Matt Christopher is credited with biographies of more than 30 sports stars across a whole mess of sports. The “On the Court with . . . “/ “On the Field with . . . “ / “On the Bike with Lance Armstrong,” etc. series didn’t have to be that discriminating in whom it chose to profile.

Although, to be fair, Hakeem does have a cool life story, and he was a clean-living, disciplined guy. Some of the strangest, funniest moments in the book are when Matt Christopher gets really worried and borderline panicky in his writing style when Hakeem’s teammates do things like get busted for cocaine. It’s clearly not a world he is prepared to live in, so Hakeem is a good guy to write about – a somewhat unreligious kid who became a devout Muslim back as an adult when public concepts of Islam in the United States were very different (think more the African version of a conservative Christian, who doesn’t drink and wears long robes).

Fear the Zombie Ancestor

But how could Matt Christopher justify writing so many disposable books? As repetitive as his more well-known fiction was, you got the sense he thought it all was special.

On the Court with . . . Hakeem Olajuwon was published in 1997, the year of Matt Christopher’s death. So, it’s possible it was one of the very last works Matt Christopher wrote. And yet you don’t get the sense reading it that it is particularly important or written by anybody in ill health.

On the Field with . . . Albert Pujols must have been particularly hard for Matt Christopher to write, because Albert Pujols didn’t start playing Major League Baseball until Matt Christopher had been dead for four years.

Wait . . . what?



Yeah, Matt Christopher is the Tom Clancy of sports books for kids – his name is slapped on all sorts of books he didn’t actually write. He is listed as the sole writing credit on On the Court with . . .Hakeem Olajuwon, but on the Pujols book, there are additional credits like “text by [RANDOM DUDE],” and “Matt Christopher(R) is the property of Catherine Christopher.”

So, yeah, he never wrote a book about LeBron James, unless he WALKS THE EARTH!!


So, in conclusion, Matt Christopher may or may not have actually written this book, which may or may not accurately reflect the events of the life of NBA Great Hakeem Olajuwon, and may or may not be formally equivalent to a work of fiction independently of whether it happens to be accurate or not.

But what is certain is the book is an engrossing, nostalgic read. The section about frickin’ John Starks blowing the NBA Finals for the New York Knicks, as heroically as it is framed from Olajuwon’s perspective, was just as agonizing during my reading as when I was watching it at age 14. It’s really cool to read about games I still remember watching. And the themes of persistence, getting close to success time and again only to fall short and persist because of your focus and love of the game – and the opportunities it provides – well, those themes are positive.

And it’s a pretty funny book, too.

All in all, I’d say it’s well worth it’s price on some used book Web sites of $0.01, and if I had the opportunity to buy five of them at Goodwill for a dollar and use them as a gag gift in a future yankee swap, I would almost certainly do so.

If you got a gag book in a yankee swap or secret santa situation this year, I strongly encourage you to read it. You never know what you’ll find. Gag books can be kind of amazing.

Although it’s hard to argue with those Picard and Riker commemorative plates. They are pretty frickin’ awesome.

I like the serving trays I ended up getting, sure. But sometimes the weird stuff is the stuff really worth checking out.

3 Comments on “Yankee Swap Book Review: On the Court with… Hakeem Olajuwon”

  1. Carlos #

    I’ve never been able to figure out if I read Challenge at Second Base because I played the position, or vice-versa.


  2. Chris #

    Hakeem Olajuwon also had his own brand of sneakers, which were of note because they were really cheap juxtaposed to Nike’s sneakers. As such, I found myself wearing them when I played basketball as a kid. Way to be, Hakeem Olajuwon!


  3. Mike #

    I just recently found my copy of “On the Ice with… Mario Lemieux”. I think it’s what made me a Pens fan.


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