Evan Smith: It’s 10:15 p.m. in Jordan, where you and your family live, and you’ve just returned home from the mosque. Your faith is just as important to you today as it was when you were in the NBA.
Hakeem Olajuwon: Once you have your foundation, it’s established. It’s the spiritual growth that builds honesty, punctuality, keeping promises—all these qualities. It builds character. It develops kindness and generosity. It makes you a better person.
ES: Was your family religious, or is this something you gravitated toward as you got older?
HO: My parents were very religious, so I grew up in a very devout Muslim home. It was enforced. The principles were there, as well as the values.
ES: How much time during the day do you devote to your faith?
HO: My religion is a lifestyle. We pray at certain times of the day, a total of five times a day. That’s the way it is all around the world. It doesn’t mean I’m religious; every devout Muslim does it. The fourth prayer is at 4:15 in the morning here, so I have to be awake. I sleep heavy so that I can get up early.
ES: You really get up at four o’clock in the morning to pray?
HO: At 3:45. The sunrise never catches me in bed.
ES: You’re going to turn in when we hang up, right? You’re not going to get more than a few hours of sleep.
HO: But this is normal. I wake up around 3:45 so I’m ready for prayer. I have to wash up and freshen up, and I get to the mosque fifteen minutes before the prayer so I can read the Koran and study. That time of the day is so beautiful because it’s so peaceful and quiet—there’s no rush. I absorb and study well, and that sets the whole mood for