August 2001: Raptors sign Hakeem Olajuwon
In a rare exhibition of mercy, The Flagrancy will not include Glen Grunwald’s 2001 Summer Spending Spree in its Dubious Moments list. At the time, everyone expected the team to overpay for its own free agents, and still, no one expected Grunwald to pull it off. He did, and consequences be damned, will be given a free pass. Well, almost.
The one damnable sin we can not excuse is the signing of Hakeem Olajuwon. No doubt carried away by the team’s dinosaur roots, Grunwald signed the 38-year old to a 3-year $17.4M contract. Envisioned to be the final piece in a Raptor Championship puzzle, it didn’t take long for The Dream to become a salary cap nightmare—or, as classified by Toronto paleontologists, a CapaSaurus Rex.
Olajuwon arrived to training camp reeking of fromaldehide. It turns out that while the Raptor medical staff may have thoroughly examined the nagging blood clot in Olajuwon’s leg, they did not bother to check his expiration date. Or his spine. Olajuwon suffered a lower-back injury early in the season, spent much of his time on the injured list, and at the end of the year, retired.
Or did he? Now where I’m from, retiring means you stop going to work, and you stop getting paid. Not in the NBA, and definitely not in the case of Olajuwon. The NBA legend would “unofficially” retire, meaning, he would still receive his salary, and that salary would continue to count against the Raptor salary cap. Until, that is, Olajuwon submitted an official written retirement statement to the league.
But for Raptor fans, the real dubious moment occurred in Houston in 2002, when the Houston Rockets retired Olajuwon’s number. The rub lay in the fact that the game was against the Raptors, and that Olajuwon was still officially a member of the team. Imagine the humiliation felt by Glen Grunwald as he watched Olajuwon raise #34 to the rafters of the Toyota Center while getting paid $4.5M per year by Toronto. I’m surprised Grunwald didn’t walk out to half-court, throw a Raptor jersey over Olajuwon’s three piece suit, and wish him luck in the second half. You or your creaky vertebrae want out of the game? Wake up Lenny Wilkens, and sign the goddamn retirement letter I left in his hand.
Instead, Grunwald chose the high road. And in 2004, Olajuwon officially retired—by faxing in his statement, written on a $17M dollar bill.