Posted Sep 1 2011 9:27PM
So much has changed in Africa since Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning last visited together in 1994. Yet the bond among the Georgetown alums and their humanitarian commitment has not. Seventeen years after visiting Africa on behalf of the NBA, the three former All-Star centers are reunited in headlining Basketball Without Borders Africa in Johannesburg that began on Thursday. John Hareas of NBA.com spoke to Mutombo, the NBA's Global Ambassador, who shared his thoughts on the camp's goals, the impact of African centers in the NBA and the greatest Georgetown center of all time.
NBA.com: What are the expectations of this year's Basketball Without Borders camp in Africa?
Dikembe Mutombo: To have these kids aim higher and provide them with an opportunity to learn as much as they can. We want these kids to take the skills that they are learning and the message of social responsibility and bring it home with them. Maybe they can be a career leader and a great citizen in their community.
Sixty five percent of the population of Africa -- almost a quarter billion people -- are under the age of 15. We have a responsibility as human beings to make sure that these young kids get an education. It's so important. So, there is a lot of effort that needs to be put into place so that these kids can succeed.
NBA.com: What is the greatest need?
Mutombo: The greatest need is opportunity and giving them hope and helping them to believe in themselves. It's not where you come from but where you are going and where you want to be tomorrow.
NBA.com: This is your first visit to Africa with Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning since 1994. How much has changed in Africa since then?
Mutombo: It's hard to describe how much has changed. First, the country is not the same any more. From the development standpoint, it has gone far beyond our expectation.
People really want to develop here. From a basketball standpoint, the game continues to grow in popularity and in participation.
NBA.com: You have been involved on so many levels in helping your native country, what are you most proud of?
Mutombo: I am happy that we have more Africans playing basketball today in the NBA than we had in the '90s. I remember when I entered the league, I was like the third African player to play in the NBA after the late Manute Bol, who was a good friend of mine, and Hakeem Olajuwon. We were always concerned when we all leave the game, how many young players will come after us. There are more than 20 African descentees who have played or are playing in the NBA and there are more than 60 young African players who are now developing themselves in American colleges.
NBA.com: Talk about traveling with Patrick and Alonzo back to Africa.
Mutombo: Who knew that when we came here in 1994 that we would be here now participating in a great initiative that was launched by the NBA and that it is still going on after all of these years. Who knew that the idea would result in the league, its team and its players contributing nearly two million dollars to communities in need around the world. So, I think we should all be very proud.
For me, as a friend of these two warriors, I am very proud to see my brothers back in the continent.
NBA.com: By the way, who is the best Georgetown center?
Mutombo: I think Alonzo and I have to give that credit to Patrick Ewing. He took us under his wing and showed us the way to success.
NBA.com: This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Basketball Without Borders Program. What do you think has been its biggest impact?
Mutombo: The greatest impact is to see the kids developing. Some who have had a chance to play in the NBA and others in Europe and some who have gone home to become great leaders and citizens in their communities. Also, the contribution of the NBA and its players here in the continent of Africa, building more than 30 basketball courts, reading and learning centers. The money and resources by the league and its partners has been significant here in Africa.
NBA.com: What are some of your most memorable experiences of participating in the Basketball Without Borders Program.
Mutombo: My participation in the program allowed me the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa and one of the greatest heroes of our time. That would be my No. 1 moment.
NBA.com: As the NBA's Global Ambassador, talk about the growth of the game all over the world.
Mutombo: I think our game is growing very fast. Five days ago, I was on the border of Somalia in Kenya in Dadaab, visiting the refugees for five days. I couldn't believe how many kids were wearing NBA jerseys in the middle of nowhere and I'm wondering how did they get here? That shows how far our game has spread and how we have fans in every corner of the world.