David Stern Appoints Dikembe Mutombo Global Ambassador for the NBA

Jeff Shull@Jeff_ShullAnalyst INovember 21, 2009

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 20:  Former player Dikembe Mutombo watches the game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Houston Rockets at Philips Arena on November 20, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I know this is somewhat old news, and as such, this article may not see much traffic.

But I don't care. I have been thinking about how to approach this article since the story broke, and I felt the best way to do so was to just explain to people the life that Dikembe Mutombo has lived.

Mutombo was known for his tough, defensive play. The four-time defensive player of the year was not shy about letting his presence be felt on the court, as well as making you look bad in the process.

The famous finger wave is what I will always remember, especially during his days with the Rockets.

I will never forget him doing the finger wave when he blocked Shaquille O'Neal one game, then Shaq did the same later in the game and was awarded with a technical foul. The reasoning was Dike had learned to wave his finger to the crowd, rather than at the player.

But this article is not about his on-court achievements.

Dike is one of the great humanitarians of our time. He rarely thinks of himself before others, and was never shy about his philanthropy. Although he made millions as an NBA star, he never forgot where he came from.

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Mutombo was born in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and originally attended Georgetown University to become a doctor. However, coach John Thompson recruited him to play basketball, and the rest is history.

While at Georgetown, Dike not only had to go through the rigorous college curriculum, but he also had to learn English through the ESL program. He would graduate with a B.A. in linguistics and diplomacy.

Almost more impressive was his internship at the United States Congress, which perhaps foreshadowed this most recent honor.

After being drafted by Denver No. 4 overall in 1991, he was finally able to provide relief for his country. The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation was established in 1997. Its main purpose was to improve living conditions in his native Congo.

In 1996, he paid for the Zaire (now Congo) Women's National team's trip to the Olympic Games in Atlanta, bought them uniforms, and even covered their expenses.

His greatest contribution to his home country is the 29 million dollar hospital facility that opened in February of 2007. It is located near the capital city of Kinshasa, where 7.5 million people live in poverty. Dike personally donated 3.5 million of his own money to this project.

Dike is the only NBA player to win the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award twice, which is given for "outstanding service and dedication to the community."

His contributions were soon noticed by the United States government. In 1999, he was selected as one of 20 winners of the President's Service award, the highest honor for volunteer work in our country.

George Bush invited and even mentioned Dike in his 2007 State of the Union Address, referring to him as a "son of Congo." Dike said after, "My heart was full of joy. I didn't know the President was going to say such great remarks."

His most recent efforts include the Basketball Without Borders program, which sends NBA players around the world in an effort to spread the game of basketball to new places.

Growing up, Dike was always one of my favorite players and someone I looked up to. Only now, as an adult, am I able to truly respect and admire the passion he showed on and off the court. He epitomizes what a role model is meant to be.

Thank you, Dike. You will always have a place in the NBA.