As an eight-year-old, Dikembe Mutombo's mother snuck him in to watch the ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’, between the undefeated world heavyweight champion, George Foreman, and the legendary former champion, Muhammad Ali.
As you probably know, Ali proved why he is the greatest by defeating Foreman with the “rope-a-dope” tactic.
You'd think this would be the highlight of any eight-year-old boy's life from Leopoldville, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But for Dikembe Mutombo, this was just the start of the highlights. In 1987, Mutombo came to the United States to attend Georgetown University. He planned to become a doctor.
His plans would change when Georgetown Hoyas coach, John Thompson, recruited him to play basketball. So, that's what Mutombo did, he played basketball.
Mutombo quickly became a blocking machine. In his first year playing basketball, he blocked 12 shots in a game.
Alongside teammate Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown fans created a “Rejection Row” section under the basket.
They had a big silhouette of an outstretched hand to a banner for each shot blocked during the game.
Mutombo's defensive prowess earned him two Big East Defensive Player of the Year Awards (1990,1991).
When the 1991 NBA Draft came around, the Denver Nuggets wanted to add a big man to their roster. So, with the fourth overall pick, the Nuggets selected Mutombo.
As a rookie, Mutombo made a huge impact with his shot-blocking ability. In fact, Adidas put out a commercial that year featuring Mutombo.
In the commercial, the catchphrase, "Man does not fly … in the house of Mutombo", was used.
Mutombo finished his rookie season with averages of 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, and nearly three blocks per game.
He was selected to the All-Star team as a rookie, but he'd fall short of the Rookie of the Year Award, with Larry Johnson of the Charlotte Hornets winning it.
By the time the 1993–94 season was over, Mutombo help his Nuggets make history.
The Nuggets finished the season with a 42-40 record, which was good enough for them to qualify as the eighth seed in the playoffs.
The Nuggets faced the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics, a team that won 63 games.
With Mutombo averaging 12.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 6.2 blocks per game, the Nuggets became the first eighth seed to defeat a number one seed in the playoffs.
The Nuggets won the series 3-2. Even though they'd lose to the Utah Jazz 4-3 in the next round, Mutombo's Nuggets will always be remembered for their incredible achievement.
The following season, Mutombo would receive his first of four career NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Mutombo became famous for his antics after blocking a shot. He'd wave his finger in his opponent's face, letting them know not to bring the ball inside the paint.
Mutombo would play until the 2008-09 NBA season, completing 18 years in the league. On top of his four Defensive Player of the Year Awards, he also led the league in blocks three times, rebounds twice, and made the All-Star team eight times.
Mutombo would not win an NBA title, though he reached the NBA Finals in 2001 as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. He'd run into Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant during their prime, losing 4-1.
After retiring, there was no doubt Mutombo's greatness would have his name called for the Basketball Hall of Fame. His name would be called, and he was inducted in 2015.
After retiring from the NBA, Mutombo has shown his greatest achievement in life does not involve playing in the NBA.
Mutombo's humanitarian work started in 1997 when he became fed up with living conditions in his native Democratic Republic of Congo.
This effort to bring change in his home country led Mutombo to start the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation. The mission statement from the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation says this about their mission:
“The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation is dedicated to improving the health, education, and quality of life for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Foundation strives to accomplish this goal through an emphasis on primary health care and disease prevention, the promotion of health policy, health research, and increased access to health care education for the people of the Congo.”
Mutombo opened a hospital named the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa back in 2007. Since its opening, the hospital has treated over 500,000 patients.
On top of his foundation and hospital, Mutombo paid for uniforms and expenses for the Zaire women's basketball team during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.
In 2004, Mutombo participated in the Basketball Without Borders NBA program. He and other NBA players toured Africa to spread the word about basketball and to improve the infrastructure.
Sporting News named Mutombo one of the “Good Guys in Sports” in 1999 and 2000. In 1999, he was elected as one of 20 winners of the President's Service Awards, the nation's highest honor for volunteer service.
Last April, in 2020, Mutombo joined the team at Ask The Doctor, as their chief global officer. Ask The Doctor is a platform that connects people from all over the world to top doctors and healthcare professionals.
Dikembe Mutombo went from being a defensive powerhouse, blocking shots in the NBA to an offensive juggernaut in the world of charitable acts.
If we'd all follow in Mutombo's steps, maybe we could make this world a better place.