Dikembe Mutombo still stands tall in Nuggets lore
Fifteen years later, Dikembe Mutombo still remembers the picturesque view from his bedroom window.
“I miss the mountains and the climate,” the former Nuggets center said Friday. “You read in the news that Denver’s all covered by the snow, but you get beautiful sun. Every day, the sun comes out and the sky’s always blue. That’s what I miss about Denver.”
Few Colorado mountain peaks stood taller than Mount Mutombo from 1991-96.
Selected fourth overall out of Georgetown in the 1991 NBA Draft, Mutombo averaged 12.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots in five seasons with the Nuggets. He was a three-time All-Star and was named the 1995 Defensive Player of the Year during his time in Denver.
“My favorite memory is my five years with the Nuggets,” he said during a telephone interview from Atlanta. “From my first day to my last day is a great memory. There wasn’t a year that I was a Nugget that I didn’t think we succeeded.”
Mutombo remains the franchise leader in career blocked shots (1,486), and he was one of the central figures in Denver’s iconic first-round upset of the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in 1994. The Nuggets erased a 2-0 deficit and became the first No. 8 seed in NBA history to win a playoff series.
“We made fans love Denver basketball again through one of the greatest NBA victories in the history of basketball against he Seattle SuperSonics,” he said. “History cannot be erased. It’s impossible. Our games are still being shown on (television).”
Mutombo left Denver as a free agent in 1996 retired in 2009 after 18 NBA seasons with the Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.
Mutombo, 45, is a native of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and now serves as a global ambassador for the NBA Community and Player Programs. He was recently in Greece for the Special Olympics, and he will travel to South Africa in August to take part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program.
He and Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri – a native of Nigeria – have worked closely as part of Basketball Without Borders for the past 10 years.
“He’s been a driving force of the basketball camps over the years,” Mutombo said of Ujiri. “We want to thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to help us. The kids love him. He’s a great communicator.”
Mutombo returned to Denver last Oct. 27 and presented the game ball before the Nuggets season-opening game against the Utah Jazz. At the time, he was embarking on a fundraising effort to offset the cost of maintaining the $30 million hospital he helped build in his native country.
Donations through the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation have been steady, with the money going directly toward maintaining the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in the DRC capital of Kinshasa.
“The hospital is doing very well,” Mutombo said. “People are responding. That’s the only way we’ve been able to buy medicine and treat people. We’ve treated 85,000 people at our hospital. People are opening their heart despite the financial crisis.”
Mutombo, a member of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in Boise, Idaho, will continue to donate his time, energy and money to help improve education and living conditions in Africa. It’s a natural fit with his job with the NBA.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s easy to be a spokesman and ambassador for a great organization like the NBA. I thank Commissioner David Stern for putting that trust in me to serve the NBA around the globe.”
Nuggets.com will regularly spotlight coaches and players who made an impact for the Nuggets during their time in Denver. Check back throughout the summer for more features and updates on memorable figures in franchise history.
Related links: Mutombo Photo Gallery