Houston Rockets: Welcome to the Hall Dikembe Mutombo
By Coty Davis
After 18 years in the league, Dikembe Mutombo is now heading to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Nicknamed Mt. Mutombo, the 7’2 center from Georgetown University became known for his astonishing defense, and famous finger wag that followed his monstrous blocks.
In the 1991 NBA draft, the Denver Nuggets selected Dikembe Mutombo with the fourth overall pick and made an immediate impact. During his first season, Mutombo averaged 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks while becoming an All-Star in his rookie season. In an era that saw legendary big men like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and David Robinson, Mutombo was able to become one of the elite centers of his generation.
Through his first 11 seasons in the league, Mt. Mutombo became an eight-time NBA All Star, set a record with four Defensive Player of the Year awards, and averaged a double-double in rebounds and points. One of the signature moments of his career came during the first round of the 1994 NBA Playoffs. Mutombo led his underrated 42-40 Nuggets to a postseason victory over the top-seeded 63-19 Seattle SuperSonics. After the playoff win, Mutombo captured one of the NBA’s most iconic images as he held the ball over his head screaming for joy.
June 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; NBA former player Dikembe Mutombo during the second quarter in game one of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Cavaliers 108-100 in overtime for a 1-0 series lead. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
After five years in Denver, Mutombo signed with the Atlanta Hawks during the summer of 1996. In five seasons in Atlanta, Mt. Mutombo ranked third on the Hawks’ all time block leaders with 1094. In the midst of the 2001 season, the Hawks traded Mutombo to the Philadelphia 76ers for Theo Ratliff.
At the time, the 76ers were leading the Eastern Conference and needed to add a defensive minded center to help in the middle. Mutombo was just what the 76ers needed during their postseason run. His 11.7 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks was enough to help the 76ers to the NBA Finals that year. Unfortunately, his 76ers would fall 4-1 to the power house Los Angeles Lakers.
Injuries and a bad stint with New York Knicks derailed Mutombo’s career, but he found new life with the Houston Rockets during the summer of 2004. Playing as a reserve behind Yao Ming, the Rockets had one of the most lethal center combinations in the league. Despite being at the end of his career Mutombo continued to play an important role over his five seasons with the Rockets in the mid-2000s. Given the number of injuries Yao suffered over this time span Mutombo’s presence and production for Houston were key to their winning.
Even though he was not the same player that become an eight-time all-star, Mutombo was still able to play like the defensive specialist he was known for throughout his career. His most important year in Houston came during the 2007-08 season after Yao Ming went down with a season-ending injury.
During that season, he became the oldest player in NBA history to grab more than 20 rebounds (22) in a victory over the Denver Nuggets. However, it would be his performance in a mid-season win over the Lakers that became the signature moment of his career.
On January 10, 2008, Mutombo’s five blocks placed him second in league history with the most blocked shots in a career. Only Rockets’ great Hakeem Olajuwon had more blocked shots than Mutombo.
Although he had a great career, Mutombo became known for his off court aspirations as a humanitarian. As a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mutombo gave back to his county. In 1997, he started the “Dikembe Mutombo Foundation and in 2007 opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital. The first hospital in Congo in over 40 years. His humanitarian works also made him a two time winner of the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2001 and 2009.
With a career total of 11,729 points, an astonishing 12,359 rebounds and 3,289 blocks over 18 years, Mutombo will finally take his place among basketball legends. Welcome to the Hall-of-Fame Dikembe Mutombo.
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