HOUSTON (AP) _ The Houston Rockets' ride toward a second NBA championship might mean big promotional bucks for their star player.

Hakeem Olajuwon has agreed to pitch Uncle Ben's rice under a promotional deal signed with Mars Inc., said Ralph Greene, executive vice president of Barakaat Holdings Ltd., Olajuwon's investment company.

The three-year contract, which also includes endorsements of other unspecified Mars food products, would reap the Nigerian-born superstar somewhere in the ``high six-figures,'' Greene said Tuesday.

``This relationship marks a major milestone in my career, because having grown up eating Uncle Ben's rice in Nigeria, I now get the chance to work with this outstanding company,'' Olajuwon said in a statement Tuesday.

Olajuwon, who led the Houston Rockets to the 1994 NBA title while earning the league's most valuable player award, is now on the verge of his second championship. He was practicing with the team for Wednesday's Game 4 against Orlando and could not immediately be reached.

Mars Inc. did not immediately return several telephone calls from The Associated Press.

Companies have in the past been criticized for their use of black people on product labels, which some civil rights advocates claim is disparaging. Uncle Ben's logo features a balding, white-haired black man wearing a bow tie.

The singer Gladys Knight was criticized last year for representing Aunt Jemima breakfast products.

``To be frank about it, it's a slave vestige,'' Greene said of the Uncle Ben's logo. ``What they have chosen to do as a company, and how they have changed over the years, much like the rest of America has changed, there's not a whole lot of that issue that relates to us here.

``Hakeem and I talked about it very briefly. But it wasn't the kind of thing that really came to any kind of play.''

Texas A&M University journalism professor Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, author of ``Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,'' said it's a racist portrayal nonetheless.

``We're talking about Uncle Ben, who is supposed to represent a butler or valet or someone like that,'' Ms. Kern-Foxworth said. ``He's not a college professor. He's not an astronaut. He is a butler. That to me is perpetuating the subservient pejorative stereotype of black males that we do not need.''