Dikembe Mutombo is one of the most beloved basketball players and humanitarians on the planet. When the world discovered that the former center known for wagging his finger at anyone attempting to step into the paint he controlled had a brain tumor, it was devastating.
“NBA Global Ambassador and Basketball Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo is currently undergoing treatment for a brain tumor. He is receiving the best care possible from a collaborative team of specialists in Atlanta and is in great spirits as he begins treatment,” read a statement from the NBA on behalf of Mutombo and his family. “Dikembe and his family ask for privacy during this time so they can focus on his care. They are grateful for your prayers and good wishes.”
The NBA issued today the following statement on behalf of Dikembe Mutombo and his family. pic.twitter.com/ZkuqwwUFVG
— NBA (@NBA) October 15, 2022
Born to a family of eight children in a middle-class section of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mutombo attended the Jesuit-run Institut Boboto to receive his high school diploma. He joined his older brother Ilo on the then-Zairean junior national basketball team in 1986, capturing the attention of U.S. development officer Herman Henning, who forwarded a videotape to Georgetown on the 7-2 center.
When Mutombo arrived in Washington in 1987, he sat out his freshman season. Following Patrick Ewing’s graduation in 1985, Georgetown had not secured a suitable replacement at the center. Mutombo’s height, attentiveness to defense, and solid fundamentals were a perfect fit, especially when top recruit Alonzo Mourning chose to join him at Georgetown in the fall of 1987. The two found success under legendary Georgetown University coach John Thompson as athletes and men.
“Under coach Thompson, I learned a lot about the game of basketball, but, most importantly, I learned how to be a man in society,” Mutombo said to the media when Thompson passed away in 2020.
Selected fourth in the first round of the 1991 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets, Mutombo went on to become a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and an eight-time All-Star. He played 18 seasonsm including stints for Denver, the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, and Houston Rockets.
He retired second on the league’s career blocked shots list and was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. However, off the hardwood, he is known for his humanitarian work. In 1997, two years before retiring from the NBA, Mutombo established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation with a mission to improve education and quality of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"You're one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life… we love you. We're thinking about you."
Chuck & the Inside crew take a moment to send their best to Dikembe Mutombo ❤️ pic.twitter.com/ZZyTOZ3e3e
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) October 18, 2022
The Hawks retired the 56-year-old’s number 55 in 2015, the same year Mutombo was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Nuggets did the same the following year.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Dikembe, one of the world’s great humanitarians,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said to CNN.
Known for his defensive game, Mutombo led the NBA in blocked shots for five consecutive seasons and blocks per game for a record three straight seasons.