Olowokandi with the Boston Celtics in 2006
|Born||3 April 1975|
|Listed height||7 ft 0 in (2.13 m)|
|Listed weight||270 lb (122 kg)|
|NBA draft||1998 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall|
|Selected by the Los Angeles Clippers|
|1999-2003||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NBA statistics|
|Points||4,135 (8.3 ppg)|
|Rebounds||3,414 (6.8 rpg)|
|Blocks||697 (1.4 bpg)|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
Michael Olowokandi (born 3 April 1975) is a Nigerian former professional basketball player. Born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in London, he played collegiately for the Pacific Tigers. Olowokandi was selected as the first pick in the 1998 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. He played professionally until 2007, when he was forced to retire due to severe hernia and knee injuries.
Due to his underwhelming career he is considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
Olowokandi was born in Lagos, Nigeria, as the oldest of five children. His father, Ezekiel, was a Nigerian diplomat. His family moved to London when he was 4. Olowokandi has Nigerian citizenship and did not hold a British passport as of 2004.
Olowokandi attended the Newlands Manor School in Seaford, East Sussex, where he set British age group records in long jump and triple jump and also played center midfield in football. Olowokandi had a height of 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) at age 16, growing six inches in two years. He first touched a basketball at the age of 17, and began playing basketball when he was 18.
Olowokandi then entered Brunel University as a mechanical engineering major, where he was an athlete in track and field, cricket, and rugby union. He had a tryout with the Thames Valley Tigers of the Budweiser Basketball League but did not receive a contract.
On April 3, 1995, on Olowokandi's 20th birthday, he opened the Peterson's Guide to American Colleges and Universities to a random page and landed on the University of the Pacific (UOP). Olowokandi called the UOP basketball office in hopes that he would be accepted to play basketball for the Pacific Tigers. UOP assistant coach Tony Marcopulos answered the phone call and was stunned when informed of Olowokandi's height of 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m). After being informed that there were no more available basketball scholarships in UOP, Olowokandi offered to pay for his schooling (about $23,000 annually) for two years. He also called Georgetown University and Duke University but was informed they would not offer scholarships without sending a scout to see him.
Olowokandi and Marcupulos spent hundreds of phone calls arranging credit transferral and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) eligibility, which was determined that Olowokandi had three seasons of college remaining. When Olowokandi arrived in the United States in August 1995, he had not played a game of organised basketball or met the UOP coaches - Pacific head coach Bob Thomason joked, "I had told him on the phone that if he wasn't 7 foot I was going to put him right back on the plane." Olowokandi had no understanding of basketball terminology and was in poor physical condition. He frequently committed backcourt and traveling violations in his early games but persisted with his progression and committed to extended practice sessions. During his sophomore season, he became a star for the team, averaging a team high 12.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
During his junior year, Olowokandi led his team to the 1997 NCAA Tournament and as a senior he led the Tigers to the 1998 National Invitation Tournament. He averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game his senior year and was the 1997-98 Big West Conference Player of the Year. He graduated from Pacific with a degree in Economics and had his No. 55 jersey retired by the university in 1998.
Olowokandi was considered to be a top two pick in the 1998 NBA draft due to his 7 ft 6 in (2.29 m) wingspan and "unlimited upside". He was drafted with the first overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers had initially planned to draft eventual second pick Mike Bibby, but Elgin Baylor cited Olowokandi's work habits and off-season improvements as the swaying factors. The start of the 1998-99 NBA season was hampered due to a lockout and the Clippers were not allowed to contact Olowokandi. His agent, Bill Duffy, put Olowokandi in contact with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who trained together extensively during the 1998 offseason. Olokowandi signed with Italian team Kinder Bologna on 5 January 1999 - only two days before the lockout was resolved. In 3 regular season Italian League games played with Bologna, he averaged 4.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 0.3 assists in 17.3 minutes per game. He also played for 3 games in the FIBA EuroLeague, where he averaged 10.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.3 assists in 21.3 minutes per game. Bologna granted Olowokandi an early release to sign with the Clippers as he did not have a considerable impact and was poorly conditioned. Olowokandi claimed that he felt misused by the team and did not have his offensive abilities utilised.
Olowokandi signed with the Clippers on January 29, 1999. During his rookie season, he averaged 8.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in 45 games played for the Clippers. Olowokandi underwent surgery on his left knee on May 11, 1999, in what would be the first of multiple knee surgeries.
In the 2001-02 season, Olowokandi saw the most playing time of his career and averaged 11.1 points and 8.8 rebounds. He averaged 17 points a game and 11 rebounds during the last 20 games of the season and was considered one of the biggest free agents in the 2002-03 free agency class. On April 5, 2002, Olowokandi was fined $50,000 by the Clippers for "behavior detrimental to the team" after he criticized teammates for a loss against the Utah Jazz.
Olowokandi was coveted by the San Antonio Spurs to replace the retiring David Robinson. He was also a top choice for the Denver Nuggets, with Kiki VanDeWeghe of the Denver Nuggets considering Olowokandi to be a "legitimate center." However, Olowokandi resigned with the Clippers to their qualifying offer on September 24, 2002, following weeks of uncertainty in contract negotiations. Olowokandi injured his left knee during his extensive training during the offseason and missed most of the preseason. The team's apprehension in offering him a longterm contract extension caused conflict between the Clippers and Olowokandi, who by December 2002 had decided he would not again resign with the team. He also considered himself as having a limited role in coach Alvin Gentry's offense despite having a breakthrough season that saw improvements in his aggressiveness and consistency. Olowokandi's left knee injury flared up in January 2003 and he was placed on the injured list. He underwent knee surgery on February 3, 2003, and was ruled out for three to four weeks. Olowokandi was ultimately ruled out for the rest of the season by the Clippers in April.
Olowokandi averaged 9.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in his 323 games played with the Clippers over five seasons. Abdul-Jabbar, who became an assistant coach for the Clippers during Olowokandi's tenure, considered Olowokandi "talented but uncoachable" and cited his lack of willingness to accept criticism in practice as being detrimental to his career.
Due to financial issues with the L.A. Clippers, Olowokandi signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a three-year, $16.2 million dollar contract. Olowokandi had been considered the 4th most valuable free agent that offseason but received little interest from NBA teams and accepted the only solid deal he was offered. Olowokandi was enticed by Timberwolves general manager and former player Kevin McHale, who trained one-on-one together before the season started. Olowokandi again experienced pain and swelling in his left knee so had a second procedure before the start of the regular season that resulted in him missing all of training camp and attending only three team practices. He appeared sporadically in games for the Timberwolves during November and December due to tendinitis in his right knee. Olowokandi underwent surgery on December 12, 2003, and was ruled out indefinitely.
On November 26, 2004, Olowokandi was suspended by the Timberwolves for two games after he was arrested for refusing to leave an Indianapolis night club. On January 16, 2005, Olowokandi was suspended by the NBA for four games for a fight with Nenê of the Denver Nuggets during a game the previous night.
On January 26, 2006, he was traded by the Timberwolves to the Boston Celtics in a multi-player trade.
In 500 regular season NBA games (399 games started), Olowokandi averaged 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.39 blocked shots per game. In 15 playoff games (2 starts), he averaged 2.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and .7 blocks per game. Before his injuries occurred due to overtraining, Olowokandi was noted for his large size and skills with scoring, blocking shots, and rebounding, readily helping the Clippers against top NBA defenders such Dikembe Mutombo.
In 2001, Olowokandi and his Clippers teammates participated in the BasketBowl Challenge at Keystone Lanes in Norwalk, to raise funds for the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation and Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
During Thanksgiving of 2006, Olowokandi volunteered his time at the Boston Children's Hospital and served meals for over 200 homeless people at the Pine Street Inn in Boston. He has also donated to various charities and hospitals, including over $100,000 to the Children's Hospital Los Angeles for a new incubator for premature newborn infants. Many of Olowokandi's charitable projects were undisclosed and done privately without his teams' affiliations.