Dream Week: Fast Is a Feast
FD's Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball Historywill be officially released on October 26, but the celebration is beginning early. Inspired, and curated, by Brian Phillips of Run of Play, DREAM WEEK features some of your fastest and most favorite writers trying to crack the mystery of Hakeem Olajuwon and his Rockets.
Starting with the 1990-91 season, when he became more observant and changed his name, Hakeem strictly observed Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, which required him to forgo food and drink from sunrise to sunset. One of the enduring myths of his career is that his game actually improved during this time despite the fact that he played through hunger and often without drinking fluids. In 1997, for instance, he scored 32 points in a win over the Bulls in a game in which he didn't hydrate. In February 1995, he averaged 29 points per game and was named NBA Player of the Month, even though the entire month fell within Ramadan.
Hakeem himself thought he was better during Ramadan and has said in interviews that his statistics went up when he was fasting:
But it's true. When I was playing, we were travelling and all my team-mates were drinking water. To me, it didn't matter. It made me stronger and my statistics went up; I was better during Ramadan, more focussed… lighter.But did fasting actually boost his stats? Intrepid FD reader Eric Marsh ran the numbers, and the math says not really.
At the beginning of my career, when my team-mates heard I was fasting during the season they thought it would affect my game and were concerned. But when they saw that it actually made me better there was a lot of admiration and intrigue: 'How can you play at this level without drinking water, when you must need water and must be thirsty' they would ask.
Except toward the very end of his career, when the fasting graphs tick up noticeably, Hakeem's Ramadan stats barely waver from his career averages. Which means that, by the numbers anyway, not eating or drinking didn't make him a better player. But it didn't make him a worse player, either, which is frankly impressive enough.