Dikembe Mutombo may have bounced between six teams across his NBA career, but he was no journeyman center. His presence in the Basketball Hall of Fame attests to that. He was the kind of player that it was a headline when Michael Jordan finally managed to dunk on him.
He made himself known in the NBA across two distinct eras, from Jordan’s ’90s to filling in the huge hole left by an injured Yao Ming in 2008. Yet it’s what came after Mutombo’s time on the court that he will ultimately be best known for.
Dikembe Mutombo’s Hall of Fame career
The multilingual Congolese Mutombo came to Georgetown University to become a doctor. The one language he ironically had little command of yet was English.
As he put his all into ESL classes to quickly catch up, he stumbled upon an alternative way to let off some steam. At 7 feet, 2 inches, he caught the attention of Georgetown’s basketball team and decided to let off some steam on the court.
It became much more than a side activity. Mutombo’s proclivities for the game went beyond his size. His college performances earned him a first-round pick — fourth overall — in the 1991 NBA draft. The Denver Nuggets went all-in on the defensive giant.
According to Basketball-Reference, his rookie season was an immediate breakout moment. Mutombo averaged a double-double. But the stat most relevant to his future role in the NBA was the nearly three blocked shots per game. The eight-time All-Star eventually retired with the second most blocks in NBA history, easily earning his 2015 induction into the Hall of Fame.
A seamless transition to charity Work
The reason Mutombo attended Georgetown was ultimately to help people as a doctor. His basketball career didn’t necessarily distract him from that goal. The enormous earnings possible for top NBA stars facilitated the next phase of Mutombo’s life.
He started the Mutombo Foundation in 1997, well before his 2008 retirement. Once a knee injury definitively pushed him out of the NBA, he turned his whole focus to charity. A major first move was involving the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Special Olympics for the first time.
His primary focus became providing better medical care for his fellow Congolese. This relentless pursuit earned him notice by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2011, they awarded Mutombo with the Goodermote Humanitarian Award.
In the ceremony, the institution recognized his work increasing access to medical care in his home country, as well as fighting polio worldwide.
Dikembe Mutombo’s latest humanitarian accomplishments
Mutombo’s humanitarian drive is seemingly endless. Global health initiatives regularly namedrop the former NBA great as a source of charity, and as a contact for global connections in the medical world. While he focuses on building connections between the U.S. and Congo, his years of work have made him a key figure in coordinating healthcare worldwide.
The Harvard University Medical School provided Mutombo with his most recent formal honor. In a ceremony that covered his lifetime of achievement, special focus was reserved for his cutting-edge hospital in Kinshasa, Congo. It was the first hospital capable of handling acute cancer cases in the region in decades and still provides the best care in the region today.
He continues to be an advocate for marginalized people around the world. He speaks out for attention on the plight of the global south during global pandemics. And the latest generation of NBA players still remembers him, mimicking his iconic finger wag when they pull off only the most devastating blocks.