Mutombo holding the prestigious Laureus Sport for Good Award.
By Stuart Winchester
NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo was in Abu Dhabi Wednesday night, where the prestigious Laureus World Sports Academy honored his extensive humanitarian work by presenting him with the Laureus Sport for Good Award. The academy, which is made up of 46 of the greatest living sportsmen and women, presents the award to an individual who uses the concept of “sport for good” to inspire his or her work and has made outstanding contributions to society and youth worldwide.
“It feels great to receive such a prestigious award from such a distinguished group of former athletes who recognize the difference you’ve made and your service to the community,” said Mutombo. “This is as big as it gets. I’m happy that my foundation is being recognized. This gives me more courage to continue to do what I do.”
Through the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, which the eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year established in 1997, Mutombo has raised more than $30 million and assisted approximately 60,000 women and children in his native Democratic Republic of Congo. In July 2007, Mutombo’s foundation opened the 300-bed, $29-million Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Centre on the outskirts of Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital. The hospital, which Mutombo named after his late mother, has already treated more than 25,000 patients.
This is the eleventh year the Laureus World Sports Academy has distributed its awards. Mutombo received his award from Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow at the luxurious Emirates Palace hotel before a global television audience and a live crowd that included, among other global sports and entertainment figures, NBA Legend Julius Erving, aka Dr. J. “All I wanted to do was change the living conditions of the people in Africa,” Mutombo said as he received his award. “It's been very hard for me, every day as I played basketball, to see how many millions of children continued to die on the continent of Africa. More than 1.5 million children keep dying from malaria, which costs only 35 cents to treat. And women continue to die from child delivery, and it costs only 25 dollars to deliver a baby. If we are not putting in an effort to save these women and children, our world will continue to suffer.”
The Laureus Sport for Good Award is just the latest in a long line of humanitarian awards for Mutombo, who retired from the NBA in 2009. He earned the 1999 President’s Service Award, the 2001 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, and the 2007 Civil Rights Museums Sports Legacy Award. He is a 2007 inductee into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame and is a spokesman for international relief agency CARE.
Mutombo’s work in the community has only intensified since retirement. He is focused now on reducing infant mortality and helping women in the developing world increase their odds of surviving childbirth. He is particularly focused on reducing obstetric fistulas, a complication of childbirth that causes a woman to lose control of her urine and feces. “Many of these problems happen because women do not have access to doctors,” said Mutombo. “When childbirth goes wrong, they continue to suffer. This is our collective problem that women and children suffer this way, and I want to be part of the fight against it.”
Mutombo is appreciative of the many who contribute to his broad humanitarian work. “I thank everyone who has supported us in the past and will continue to support us in the future,” he said. “It’s not easy to engage in this fight of poverty and diseases, and I want to encourage everyone who has made contributions to keep it up and let me keep doing the work God gives to me.”