Farewell to Dikembe Mutombo

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Farewell to Dikembe Mutombo
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Dikembe Mutombo knew straight away his basketball career was over.

On Tuesday night, when he came down hard after tangling with Greg Oden, the 18-year veteran had to be carried off the court on a stretcher.

It was a sad way for one of basketball's most intriguing and lovable characters to sign off.

Mutombo will be remembered as one of the leagues best shot blockers ever. He blocked 3,289 shots over his career, second on the all time list to Nigerian superstar and former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon.

What is truly remarkable about Mutombo is that in almost 1,200 career games, not once did he commit a personal foul.

At least in his own estimation.

Of course, he was called for several, but each time, Mutombo looked on in absolute wonderment at how the referees could possibly call him for an infraction?

It was adorable.

As his career went on and age caught up with him, Mutombo became less of a force on the glass and was never a great scorer, but blocking shots was what kept him effective.

Apart from the constant finger waggling, the other defining image of Mutombo's career will be of him lying on the ground clutching the ball in the 1994 playoffs.

The number eight seed, Denver Nuggets, had upset the Seattle Supersonics in Game Five of the first round of the playoffs to win the series 3-2.

The Sonics were favoured to go to the finals that year and took a comfortable 2-0 series lead before the Nuggets stormed back.

Led by Mutombo who swatted 31 shots for the series, Denver caused one of the biggest shocks in NBA history.

Mutomobo arrived in the NBA via the fourth pick of the 1991 draft. Until Tuesday night, he was the only player from that year's draft still active in the league.

His full name is Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo and he was born in the Congo.

Mutombo was playfully mocked at times for the way he spoke English. That said however, Mutombo is multi-lingual being fluent in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and several other African dialects and languages.

Mutombo's career in the NBA has helped him bring awareness and help to his native Congo. He has helped fund and build a hospital in the Capital City of Kinshasa and named it after his mother who passed away from a stroke in 1997.

In this age of "me-first" athletics who often try to just build themselves houses the size of small castles, Mutombo was always more interested in building a facility to help as many people from his home town as he could.

While Mutombo's career was coming to a close anyway, it was truly sad to see him leave on a stretcher. Hopefully, he recovers quickly and is back waggling his finger on the sidelines soon.

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