By Delinda Lombardo on
After 17-seasons in the NBA, Dikembe Mutombo is considering retirement, but it’s his off-the-court efforts that were the basis for a special event last week.
On Wednesday the Houston Rockets center was recognized for his humanitarian efforts during a special halftime ceremony. NBA Commissioner David Stern and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander honored Mutombo in a heartfelt tribute, which was followed by a standing ovation, a massive donation to his foundation and a Tux & Tennies Charity Gala.
“What can you get the man who could be the reincarnation of Mother Teresa,” teammate Shane Battier said. “I don’t think there is anything we could give him to signify how much we love him as a teammate and how much he means to the NBA. Honestly.”
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander handed the big guy a check for $500,000 to benefit the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital that Mutombo built in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Alexander then used the Rockets Annual Tux & Tennies Charity Gala to benefit Dikembe’s foundation and hospital.
“When Dikembe asked me to use this as an event for his cause, he showed me a video of people in Africa going to a hospital,” Alexander said Thursday. “They bring their own mattress. They walk in. There’s nobody there. There’s no drugs. There’s no medicine. There’s no facilities. There’s nothing. When you’re sick, you know how sad you are. I could just imagine in America walking into that same thing, how horrible they would feel. It shakes your bones. It (Wednesday’s donation) meant a great deal. It meant he could buy many goods and medicines for the people of the Congo. He is part of the Rocket family. To help him was really special.”
Mutombo’s humanitarian efforts have garnered a nod from both the current President and former President Bush. During his 2007 State of the Union Address, George W. Bush said: “Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth, or the duty to share his blessings with others. A friend has said of this good-hearted man: ‘Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things.’ And we are proud to call this son of the Congo a citizen of the United States of America.”
Mutombo was present at the speech and later commented, “My heart was full of joy. I didn’t know the President was going to say such great remarks.”
Former President George H.W. Bush held a courtside seat for Wednesdays game and spoke at the event.
“There’s not many times people can get an occasion to have a former president to be the guest speaker for a function,” Mutombo said. "I think I was lucky enough to have that relationship and to have Les Alexander host this dinner and to make the gift to the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation … I just want to thank God for all His blessings," he said. “I was very emotional seeing all my family members, my friends, my fans and the owner…you don’t get too many special nights like this. I’m just so happy, and I’m very lucky.”
He said he hoped fans would remember him as a man who did his best both on the court and off. “As someone who made a difference,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine Mutombo NOT making a difference. His remarkable charitable efforts span five different continents and he personally contributed $15M to build the hospital in the Congo.
“I was there at the beginning and watched what he wanted to do,” NBA Commissioner Stern said. "I was there for his first meeting with Nelson Mandela. I’ve been in love with him ever since…when we did our mission statement, we said basketball is No. 1 and social responsibility No. 2. NBA Cares could be Dikembe Cares because he sets the standard for social responsibility."
Mutombo’s charity work should certainly land him a spot in the history books as one of the most noteworthy humanitarians of our time. Aside from establishing the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation and building a hospital, he’s earned an NBA Humanitarian award; was named one of the ‘Good Guys in Sports’ by the Sporting News for two years in a row; he’s won the President’s Service Award, the nation’s highest honor for volunteer service; he’s participated in Basketball Without Borders; he paid for uniforms and expenses for the Zaire women’s basketball team during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta; he is a spokesman for the international relief agency, CARE (relief); and is the first Youth Emissary for the United Nations Development Program.
All this while playing in the NBA. Just imagine what he could do if he were to retire?
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