Keeping up with athletes and name changes has never been easy. While at Notre Dame, quarterback Joe Theismann altered the pronunciation of his last name to rhyme with “Heisman,” a trick that did not, however, win for him the coveted trophy.
Then there was tailback Tony Dorsett, who announced one day his name was to be pronounced Dor-SETT.
Now, when you thought it was safe to spell Akeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets’ All-Star center has announced he is changing his first name to Hakeem.
What the “H”? Olajuwon has been Akeem since he arrived in the United States from Nigeria in 1981, but no more. He says the original Arabic spelling of his name, “Hakeem,” means “a wise man; a doctor,” but that “Akeem” has no translation.
“Akeem is just the way that many people write my name when they are putting it into English,” he said. “Even back at home in Nigeria, some of my teachers in high school spelled it one way and some of them spelled it the other. Usually, it was the English teachers who spelled it Akeem.”
Add Hakeem: Truth be told, the Rockets center said his mother in Nigeria has long questioned why he changed his first name to Akeem. “I always thought it would be something very complicated to change,” he said. “I didn’t know what would be involved. But now, I’ve just decided to put the ‘H’ in front and make it Hakeem. That’s it.”
Trivia time: What player holds the single-game record for points scored in the NCAA tournament?
Neat Nicknames: Tom Callahan writes in the Washington Post that former Negro League baseball star James (Cool Papa) Bell, who died last week at 87, had one of the best monikers of his era. But he certainly wasn’t alone.
Among Bell’s contemporaries were Smoky Joe Williams, Cannonball Dick Redding, Steel Arm Dicky, Mule Suttles, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson and Satchel Paige.
Today, of course, we get George (Sparky) Anderson.
Callahan writes that Bell received his nickname at 19 when he smiled wryly just before striking out a batter in a clutch situation.
“He’s taking it cool,” a teammate reportedly whispered on the bench. Manager Bill Gatewood eventually added “Papa” for panache.
Bell, of course, spent most of his career as a center fielder, never batting worse than .300.
Could he field? Can Barry Bonds gripe?
“Cool Papa patrolled so near to second base that he frequently tiptoed in for pickoff attempts,” Callahan writes. “Overthrowing third one time in Memphis, he ran to the base, caught the carom off the dugout roof and completed the only ‘8-8' putout in history.”
Add Cool Papa: Bell was considered one of the fastest players ever. An opposing catcher once stenciled “Thou Shalt Not Steal” across his chest protector. Bell, amused, took off from first and reportedly slid into third as the catcher’s throw reached second base. Or so the story goes.
Move over Michael: The Chicago Sun-Times recently ran this advertisement: “Have Dinner With Your Favorite Chicago Bull at the 1991 Chicago Sun-Times Sports Dinners.” Your choice of “favorite” was either B.J. Armstrong or Cliff Levingston.
Trivia answer: Notre Dame guard Austin Carr, who scored 61 against Ohio in 1970. Note: Carr also scored 52 points twice in the tournament, against Kentucky in 1970 and TCU in 1971.
Quotebook: Heavyweight boxer and fast-food junkie George Foreman, comparing his eating habits to those of upcoming opponent, Evander Holyfield: “He’s got a nutritionist, and I’ve got room service.”