The 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m), 260-pound (120 kg; 19 st) center, who began his career with the Georgetown Hoyas, is commonly regarded as one of the greatest shot blockers and defensive players of all time, winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award four times; he was also an eight-time All-Star. On January 10, 2007, he surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the second most prolific shot blocker in NBA history, behind only Hakeem Olajuwon. He averaged a double-double for most of his career, and is 12th all-time in career double-doubles, and tied for second all-time in career triple doubles involving points, rebounds and blocks.
At the conclusion of the 2009 NBA playoffs, Mutombo announced his retirement. On September 11, 2015, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Dikembe Mutombo was born on June 25, 1966 in Leopoldville (today Kinshasa), Democratic Republic of the Congo as one of twelve children to Samuel and Biamba Marie Mutombo. He speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and five Central African varieties including Lingala and Tshiluba. He is a member of the Luba ethnic group. He moved to the United States in 1987 at the age of 21 to enroll in college.
Mutombo attended Georgetown University on a USAID scholarship, and his original intention was to become a doctor; however, the Georgetown Hoyas basketball coach John Thompson recruited him to play basketball. He spoke almost no English when he arrived at Georgetown and studied in the ESL program. During his first year of college basketball as a sophomore, Mutombo once blocked twelve shots in a game. Building on the shot-blocking power of Mutombo and teammate Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown fans created a "Rejection Row" section under the basket, adding a big silhouette of an outstretched hand to a banner for each shot blocked during the game.
While at Georgetown, Mutombo's international background and interests stood out. Like many other Washington-area college students, he served as a summer intern, once for the Congress of the United States and once for the World Bank. In 1991, he graduated with bachelor's degrees in linguistics and diplomacy.
In the 1991 NBA draft, the Denver Nuggets drafted Mutombo with the fourth overall pick. Coming to a team ranked last in the NBA in opponent points-per-game and Defensive Rating, his shot blocking ability made an immediate impression across the league. Mutombo developed his signature move in 1992 as a way to become more marketable and gain product endorsement contracts. After blocking a player's shot, he would point his right index finger at that player and move it side to side. That year, Mutombo starred in a Adidas advertisement which used the catchprase "Man does not fly … in the house of Mutombo", a reference to his prolific shot-blocking. As a rookie, Mutombo was selected for the All-Star team and averaged 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, and nearly three blocks per game.
Mutombo began establishing himself as one of the league's best defensive players, regularly putting up big rebound and block numbers. The 1993–94 season saw Denver continue the steady improvement with Mutombo as the franchise cornerstone, finishing with a 42-40 record and qualifying for the eighth seed in the playoffs. They were matched up with the top-seeded 63–19 Seattle SuperSonics in the first round.
After falling to a 0-2 deficit in the five game series, Denver won three straight games to pull off a major playoff upset by stunning the SuperSonics, becoming the first eighth seed to defeat a number one seed in an NBA playoff series. At the end of Game 5, Mutombo memorably grabbed the game-winning rebound and fell to the ground, holding the ball over his head in a moment of joy. Mutombo's defensive presence was the key to the upset victory; his total of 31 blocks remains a record for a five-game series. In the second round of the playoffs, the Nuggets fell to the Utah Jazz 4-3.
The following season, he was selected to his second All-Star game and received the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. However Denver failed to build on their success from the previous playoffs, as Mutombo lacked a quality supporting cast around him. At the conclusion of the 1995–96 season, Mutombo became a free agent, and reportedly sought a 10-year contract – something the Nuggets considered impossible to offer. Bernie Bickerstaff, the Nuggets general manager at the time, later said not bringing back Mutombo was his biggest regret as GM.
After the 1995–96 NBA season, Mutombo signed a 5-year, $55 million free agent contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Joining Hawks All-Star Steve Smith, the duo led Atlanta to back to back 50+ win seasons in 1996–97 (56–26) and 1997–98 (50–32). The Hawks defeated the Detroit Pistons in five games in the first round of the 1997 NBA Playoffs, but lost in five games in the second round to the defending champs Chicago Bulls. Mutombo won Defensive Player of the Year both years, continuing to put up excellent defensive numbers with his new team. During the lockout-shortened 1998–99 season, he was the NBA's IBM Award winner, a player of the year award determined by a computerized formula. That year, the NBA banned the Mutombo finger wag, and after a period of protest, he complied with the new rule.
At the February 2001 trade deadline, the Hawks traded Mutombo to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, along with Roshown McLeod, in exchange for Pepe Sánchez, Toni Kukoč, Nazr Mohammed, and injured center Theo Ratliff. One week earlier, Mutombo played in the All-Star game; he led the game with 22 rebounds and 3 blocks. Along with game MVP Allen Iverson and coach Larry Brown, both of the 76ers, the East rallied from a 95–74 fourth quarter deficit to win 111-110 on Mutombo and Iverson's strong performances. After the game, rumors began of a trade sending Mutombo to Philadelphia. With Ratliff out for the remainder of the year, the Sixers needed a big man to compete with potential matchups against Western Conference powers Vlade Divac, Tim Duncan, David Robinson or Shaquille O'Neal, should they reach the finals.
In arguably his best season as a pro, Mutombo earned his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award that season and also helped the Sixers reach the NBA Finals. After pulling off an upset and winning Game 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers (the only playoff game the Lakers lost in 2001), the Sixers would lose the next four games and the series. Matched up against Shaq, Mutombo averaged 16.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. A free-agent, he re-signed with the Sixers after the season to a four-year, $68 million contract.
The 2001–02 saw a change in the Eastern conference hierarchy; the Sixers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, while the New Jersey Nets surged to the top of the standings, making it all the way to the Finals against the Lakers (the Nets were swept). Looking for a big man to compete with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan, the Nets sent Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch to Philadelphia in exchange for Mutombo.
Mutombo however spent most of that season with a nagging injury that limited him to just 24 games. He was generally unable to play in the playoffs, typically serving as a sixth man during the Nets' second consecutive Finals run (they lost to the Spurs in six games). After one contentious season in New Jersey, the Nets bought out the remaining two years on his contract.
In October 2003, he signed a two-year deal with the New York Knicks. After a dominant performance against the crosstown rival New Jersey Nets that included 11 blocks, Knicks fans began waving their fingers at Mutombo. He chose to respond in kind only after a referee told him that as long as the celebration was not directed toward a particular player, the league would not punish him. In August 2004, the Knicks traded him to the Chicago Bulls, along with Cezary Trybański, Othella Harrington, and Frank Williams in exchange for Jerome Williams and Jamal Crawford.
Prior to the 2004–05 season, the Bulls traded Mutombo to the Houston Rockets for Mike Wilks, Eric Piatkowski and Adrian Griffin. Playing as a reserve behind Yao Ming, Yao and Mutombo formed one of the NBA's most productive center combos. In his first season with the Rockets, Mutombo averaged 15.2 MPG, 5.3 RPG, and 4.0 PPG. The Rockets lost in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks.
On March 2, 2007, in a win over the Denver Nuggets, at the age of 40, Mutombo became the oldest player in NBA history to record more than 20 rebounds in a game with 22.
In the 2007–08 season, Mutombo received extensive playing time when Yao went down with a broken bone and averaged double digits in rebounding as a starter. In midst of a 10-game winning streak at the time of Yao's injury, Mutombo stepped in and helped the Rockets win 12 more games to complete a 22-game winning streak, a then-team record.
On January 10, 2008, in a 102–77 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mutombo recorded 5 blocked shots and surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in total career blocked shots, trailing only Hakeem Olajuwon.
After contemplating retirement and spending the first part of 2008 as an unsigned free agent, on December 31, 2008, Mutombo signed with the Houston Rockets for the remainder of the 2008–2009 season. He said that the 2009 would be his "farewell tour" and his final season; he was the oldest player in the NBA in 2009. In Game 1 of Houston's first round playoff series against Portland, Mutombo played for 18 minutes and had nine rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.
In the 2nd quarter of Game 2, Mutombo landed awkwardly and had to be carried from the floor. After the game, he said, "it's over for me for my career" and that surgery would be needed. It was later confirmed that the quadriceps tendon of his left knee was ruptured in Game 2. Mutombo announced retirement on April 23, 2009, after 18 seasons in the NBA.
The 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) 260 lb (120 kg), Mutombo played center, where he was regarded as one of the top inside defenders of all time. Nicknamed "Mt. Mutombo", his combination of height, power, and long arms, led to a record tying four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, a feat equaled only by Ben Wallace. Staples of Mutombo's defensive prowess were his outstanding shot-blocking and rebounding power: for his career, he averaged 2.8 blocks and 10.3 rebounds per game. He is second all-time in registered blocks, behind only Hakeem Olajuwon, and is the 21st most prolific rebounder ever. He was also an eight-time All-Star and was elected into three All-NBA and six All-Defensive Teams. Along with his defensive prowess, Mutombo could also contribute offensively, averaging at least 10 points per game until he reached age 35.
Mutombo also achieved a certain level of on-court notoriety. After a successful block, he was known for taunting his opponents by waving his index finger, like a parent reproaching a disobedient child. Later in his career NBA officials would respond to the gesture with a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. To avoid the technical foul, Mutombo took to waving his finger at the crowd after a block, which is not considered taunting by rules. In addition, his flailing elbows were known for injuring several NBA players, including Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, Chauncey Billups, Ray Allen, Yao Ming, LeBron James and Tracy McGrady. His former teammate Yao Ming made a joke about it: "I need to talk to Coach to have Dikembe held out of practice, because if he hits somebody in practice, it's our teammate. At least in the games, it's 50/50."
Mutombo was to marry Michelle Roberts, a medical student, in 1994. However, the wedding was canceled when Roberts refused to sign a prenuptial agreement the day before the wedding.
In 1987, Mutombo's 6'10" older brother, Ilo, began playing college basketball in Division II for the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles as a 26-year-old freshman. The brothers played against each other in a 1990 game at the Capital Centre.
He eventually married his wife, Rose, who is also from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have six children, four of whom are adopted.
Mutombo was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the State University of New York College at Cortland in 2004 for his humanitarian work in Africa. More recently, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Georgetown University in 2010. There he delivered the commencement address for Georgetown College of Arts and Sciences, of which he is an alumnus. He also received an honorary doctorate degree from Haverford College in May 2011.
In November 2015, the NCAA announced Mutombo as a recipient of its Silver Anniversary Awards for 2016. The awards are presented annually to six former NCAA athletes on the 25th anniversary of the final academic year of their college careers, recognizing both excellence of play while in college and professional achievement after college. The announcement specifically cited both his basketball career and extensive humanitarian work.
Mutombo's nephew Harouna Mutombo played college basketball for the Western Carolina Catamounts and professionally in Europe. Harouna was the team's leading scorer for the 2009 season and was named Southern Conference Freshman of the Year. His nephew Haboubacar Mutombo also committed to play basketball at Western Carolina beginning in 2013.
Mutombo was among those who witnessed the 2016 Brussels bombings at Brussels Airport on March 22, 2016. Shortly after the bombings he posted a report on his Facebook page saying that he was safe. His first post said, "God is good. I am in the Brussels Airport with this craziness. I am fine."
Mutombo made a cameo appearance in the 2002 films Juwanna Mann and Like Mike, which also mentioned his name in its theme song "Basketball".
In 2012, Mutombo lent his voice and likeness to a 16-bit style Flash game released by Old Spice.
Mutombo appeared in a Geico auto insurance commercial in February 2013, parodying his shot-blocking ability by applying it to real world situations.
Mutombo co-starred with Kevin Harvick in a Mobile1 commercial for it's annual protection brand, saying 'Don't change your oil.'
A well-known humanitarian, Mutombo started the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve living conditions in his native Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997. His efforts earned him the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2001 and 2009. For his feats, Sporting News named him as one of the "Good Guys in Sports" in 1999 and 2000, and in 1999, he was elected as one of 20 winners of the President's Service Awards, the nation's highest honor for volunteer service. In 2004, he participated in the Basketball Without Borders NBA program, where NBA stars like Shawn Bradley, Malik Rose and DeSagana Diop toured Africa to spread the word about basketball and to improve the infrastructure. He paid for uniforms and expenses for the Zaire women's basketball team during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mutombo is a spokesman for the international relief agency, CARE and is the first Youth Emissary for the United Nations Development Program.
Mutombo is a longtime supporter of Special Olympics and is currently a member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, as well as a Global Ambassador. He has been a pioneer of Unified Sports, which brings together people with and without intellectual disabilities. He also played in the Unity Cup in South Africa before the 2010 World Cup Quarterfinal, along with South African President Jacob Zuma and Special Olympics athletes from around the world. Mutombo joined his second Unity Cup team in 2012.
In honor of his humanitarianism, Mutombo was invited to President George W. Bush's 2007 State of the Union Address and was referred to as a "son of the Congo" by the President in his speech. Mutombo later said, "My heart was full of joy. I didn't know the President was going to say such great remarks."
On April 13, 2011, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health awarded Dikembe Mutombo the Goodermote Humanitarian Award "for his efforts to reduce polio globally as well as his work improving the health of neglected and underserved populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo." Michael J. Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said "Mr. Mutombo is a winner in many ways—on the court and as a humanitarian. His work has improved the health of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center is a model for the region. Likewise, Mr. Mutombo has been instrumental in the fight against polio by bolstering vaccination efforts and bringing treatment to victims of the disease."
In 2012, the Mutombo Foundation, in partnership with Mutombo's alma mater, Georgetown University, began a new initiative which aims to provide care for visually impaired children from low-income families in the Washington, D.C. region.
In 1997, Mutombo with the Mutombo Foundation began plans to open a $29 million, 300-bed hospital on the outskirts of his hometown, the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. Ground was broken in 2001, but construction didn't start until 2004, as Mutombo had trouble getting donations early on although he personally donated $3.5 million toward the hospital's construction. Initially Mutombo had some other difficulties, almost losing the land to the government because it was not being used and having to pay refugees who had begun farming the land to leave. He also struggled to reassure some that he did not have any ulterior or political motives for the project. The project has been on the whole very well received at all social and economic levels in Kinshasa.
On August 14, 2006, Dikembe had donated $15 million to the completion of the hospital for its ceremonial opening on September 2, 2006. It was by then named Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, for his late mother, who died of a stroke in 1997.
When it opened in 2007, the $29 million facility became the first modern medical facility to be built in that area in nearly 40 years. His hospital is on a 12-acre (49,000 m2) site on the outskirts of Kinshasa in Masina, where about a quarter of the city's 7.5 million residents live in poverty. It is minutes from Kinshasa's airport and near a bustling open-air market.
Mutombo serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which is a museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution.
In 2011, Mutombo also traveled to South Sudan as a SportsUnited Sports Envoy for the U.S. Department of State. In this function, he worked with Sam Perkins to lead a series of basketball clinics and team building exercises with 50 youth and 36 coaches. This helped contribute to the State Department's mission to remove barriers and create a world in which individuals with disabilities enjoy dignity and full inclusion in society.4-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year: 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001
8-time NBA All-Star: 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002
Second Team: 2001
Third Team: 1998, 2002
First Team: 1997, 1998, 2001
Second Team: 1995, 1999, 2002
NBA All-Rookie First Team: 1992
2nd in Career NBA Blocks: 3,256
2-time NBA regular-season leader, rebounding average: 2000 (14.1), 2001 (13.5)
4-time NBA regular-season leader, total rebounds: 1995 (1029), 1997 (929), 1999 (610), 2000 (1157)
NBA regular-season leader, offensive rebounds: 2001 (307)
2-time NBA regular-season leader, defensive rebounds: 1999 (418), 2000 (853)
3-time NBA regular-season leader, blocked shots average: 1994 (4.1), 1995 (3.9), 1996 (4.5)
5-time NBA regular-season leader, total blocks: 1994 (336), 1995 (321), 1996 (332), 1997 (264), 1998 (277)
Invited to be a special guest at 2007 President George W. Bush's State of the Union address; commended for his humanitarian aid to his homeland
Oldest player in NBA history to collect over 20 rebounds in a game (40 years old, March 2, 2007 vs. Denver Nuggets)
Retired NBA alumnus in Team Africa at the 2015 NBA Africa exhibition game.
Hall of Fame Class of 2015
NCAA Silver Anniversary Award (Class of 2016)
#55 retired by the Atlanta Hawks (November 24, 2015)
#55 retired by the Denver Nuggets (October 29, 2016)