Legacy of philanthropy overshadows any on-court accomplishments
Global Ambassador: Dikembe Mutombo

By John Hareas

BEIJING, Oct. 16 -- Itís easy to overlook the record four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards. Or the seven All-Star appearances and the nearly 3,000 blocked shots. Or the way he can instantly change the complexion of a game on the defensive end of the floor.

Itís easy to overlook all of these on-court attributes when the off-the-court accomplishments loom so much larger. Itís easy to forget that Dikembe Mutombo is one of the greatest defensive players of his era. Itís easy to do so because his off-the-court philanthropy speaks more to the humanitarian with a heart of gold than the defensive menace on the court.

ďIt brings a lot of happiness and joy when I see I am making a difference in other peopleís lives,Ē said Mutombo. ďI donít want the future generations, our kids and our grandchildren, to judge us differently because we are not able to solve the problems that the world is facing today. We have a duty to try and do our best in the world today to make sure our children donít suffer, and Iím glad I am playing that part and setting an example.Ē

Mutombo has been tireless in his efforts off the court to make a difference, especially in his native Democratic Republic of Congo where he recently built a two-story hospital, the first one in more than 40 years.

ďI always wanted to do something very positive that would leave a big legacy in this world, that would be part of my world,Ē said Mutombo, who recently joined rock star and activist Bono in launching the ONE campaign to rally Americans to help fight global AIDS and poverty. ďAnd the big legacy that I want to leave behind is the hospital and to name it after my late mom for the fact that she died from some circumstances that could have been prevented.Ē

Biamba Marie Mutombo, whom the hospital is named after, died of a stroke in 1998 because she was unable to receive proper medial attention due to the civil war in the Congo. The two-story hospital includes more than 300 beds and cost more than $14 million; Mutombo has contributed $8 million.

Giving back has always been a trademark of Mutomboís ever since he entered the NBA in 1991. As spokesman for CARE, the international relief agency, Mutombo visited the Somali refugee camps in Northern Kenya in 1993 and traveled with NBA Commissioner David Stern and Georgetown colleagues Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning to Cape Town and Johannesburg. In 1996, Mutombo paid for the Zairan Womenís basketball teamís trip to Atlanta for the Olympics and also picked up the tab for the track teamís uniforms. In 1997, he established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation. Itís mission -- to improve the health, education and quality of life for the people of the Congo. Through the foundation he donated $250,000 of medical and pharmaceutical supplies and 40 hospital beds to his hometown in 1998.

Recently, Mutombo and Hall of Famer Bob Lanier led a contingent of current and former players who served as coaches for the Basketball Without Borders Africa initiative, which took place September 6-10 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was second year of the program and the 100 participants were selected from more than 20 countries in Africa, based on their basketball skills, leadership abilities and dedication to the sport. In addition to the on-court instruction, the program featured extensive community outreach and incorporates educational seminars addressing important social issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention and education.

ďHe is an extraordinarily special guy the way he has given back,Ē said Lanier. ďHe hasnít forgotten where comes from and is committed to helping his people rise to another level. Heís a tremendous ambassador not only just for basketball but for his countrymen.Ē

A defensive specialist who saves the most meaningful assists for off the court.