“I am not friends with Hakeem Olajuwon.”

Written by duncan on June 30th, 2014

written by: Duncan Chance

          When I was a young’n, my team was the Houston Rockets. During the 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 seasons, the Rockets won back-to-back NBA championships (these also happen to be the years when Michael Jordan was trying his hand at baseball). During the height of my fandom, the greatest player on earth was arguably the starting center for Houston, Hakeem Olajuwon. For years, he stood unmatched in the paint. His fade-away jumpers and hooks really could’t be covered.

With players in the NBA during that time like David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Olajuwon, it was a great time for NBA centers. This was also the time of the rise of Shaquille O’Neal, another basketball great. The media was all about Shaq. He was in every commercial, sports commentators constantly talked about him, and he literally became a brand name. But, true talent became known in the 1995 NBA Championship. That year, Houston swept the Orlando Magic in 4 games to go on to win their second championship in a row. During these 4 games, you had to pity Shaq. Olajuwon ran circles around him the whole time. Shaq had no idea what to do with the “Dream Shake.” Although Olajuwon wasn’t the media darling that Shaq was, his talent, experience, and humility far exceeded that of the fan favorite. It was a good time for Centers in the NBA, and Olajuwon stood out among them. To this day, he still stands out as one of the greatest, if not the greatest centers in the NBA of all time. Today, long after retirement, he still gives back to communities and current NBA centers constantly get tips and pointers from “The Dream.”

In writing this, I’m reminded of the #34 jersey I owned and wore to my 6th grade classes. The Houston Chronicle had put out a series of newspaper inserts that you could piece together and it formed a life-sized poster of Olajuwon doing one of his signature jump shots from outside the paint. With his arms extended above his head, the poster measured over 11’ in length. I had to pin it to my ceiling in my bedroom because there were no walls tall enough in my house. I was his #1 fan. I knew about “Akeem’s” upbringing in Nigeria, his college career at the University of Houston during the “Phi Slamma Jamma” days, and his rise to fame with the Rockets. To this day, if you tell me about some current center that plays the game, the standard by which I will judge him will be #34.

When I look back at my middle school and high school years following Hakeem, I’m reminded of how much I admired him. I would sit with friends and argue about who the greatest in the NBA was (besides Jordan, of course). In that circle of friends, arguing for Kobe, or Robinson, or Ewing, I would always come back to Olajuwon. I did my best to “bring him glory.” And, normally, I succeeded in properly honoring #34.

Now, in the many years I idolized Olajuwon, I did not once have the privilege of meeting him in person. The closest I ever got to him was during a Rockets game when I got a seat about 8 rows up. I always wanted to meet him and talk basketball with him, but never had the chance. I always wondered what it would be like to have a conversation with the DR34M.

In our age of the church, so many of us see our Lord, Jesus, the same way. He is our hero. He is the one we talk about. We work so hard to defend Him. We hang posters on our wall about Him, and wear t-shirts with His name on them. In the marketplace of ideas, we constantly argue and defend our faith in Him and many times, succeed in leading others to believe in Him as well. We visit His house, hang out with His children, and even travel to the corners of the world to “bring Him glory.” Yet, so often, we are the same ones that have never actually met Him. So many of us stand as the ones who George Otis, Jr. describes so well as “the people who are incredibly active doing good works under the banner of Jesus Christ, but who have never slowed down enough to get to know the One who they think they are serving.

It was possible for me, in a few paragraphs, to bring all the honor and glory needed to convince of some of the greatness of Hakeem Olajuwon, and I am convinced that it is possible to do the same with Jesus. It is possible to talk about about Him, glorify His name, do great things for Him, sacrifice for Him, be leaders in His church, and even lead many people to Him; all at the same time not actually knowing Him. I have stood guilty of this many times in my life.

I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the book of Matthew when He reminds His followers of this: “Not everyone who cries ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” (7:21) Jesus continues: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (7:22-23)

Jesus makes clear a fundamental principle in Christianity: what I do for God is not as important as if I know Him or not. The scripture makes it clear that it’s not enough to do things for God or in the name of Jesus, I must know Him. In fact, our only work is to know Jesus. These other things like casting out demons, healing the sick, going on mission trips, and leading small groups are all simply an outflow of knowing Him. I must know Him.

If Hakeem Olajuwon passed me on the street, he would not notice me. He would’t know my name. He would’t know my likes and dislikes, and he definitely wouldn’t even know about all the glory I’ve given him over the years. Hakeem and I are not friends.

Are you friends with God? Do you know Him, or do you simply know about Him?

I cannot walk with Jesus vicariously through my church, my small group, my pastor, or my friends. I must have my own walk. Jesus WANTS to walk with me. This is one of the many things that sets our faith apart from every other worldview. It never comes down to what we have or haven’t done for God, or humanity, for that matter. It all comes down to a walk with Him. Our God condemned the religious leaders who, by the letter of the law, did everything PERFECT, and at the same time, He rewarded the thief that He hung next to at Calvary. Good works were condemned, a desire for relationship was honored.

For me, this is a sigh of relief. When my life comes to a close and I stand before the Judge of judges, Jesus will not take a look at the actions I took in His name, but rather will judge me on the walk I had with Him. He will not judge me on whether I found the best church or ministry to belong to (why do we worry about this so much??) Did I know Him, or did I just know about Him? Was I intimate with Him, or did I simply just defend Him against people who talked bad about Him? Did I spend time with Him on my own, or did I only approach Him in prayer when others could see me do it? Many of us are fans of Jesus, but so many of us need to know Him.

Today, after reading this, I encourage you to reach out to Jesus in prayer on your own. Don’t wait until you’re at church or in the presence of another believer. Talk to Him now, on your own. Don’t use this time to ask anything for yourself; instead, ask Him what He wants. Ask Him what His wants and desires are. Ask Him what He thinks about you and what He wants for your life. For many of you, it will be the beginning of an intimate relationship with God. The good news is you can know Him. The Bible says that He stands at the door and knocks, and waits for you to open the door. The door isn’t opened by what you do in the name of Jesus, it is opened by your desire to know Him personally.



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