Dikembe Mutombo's 10 defining moments with the Denver Nuggets
It’s 5/5, which gives Nuggets.com a perfect opportunity to highlight the greatest player to wear No. 55 as a Nugget, Dikembe Mutombo. He might have only played five seasons in the Mile High City, but he left an undeniable legacy during his time with the organization. Here are the 10 defining moments during Mutombo’s time in Denver:
10. Being drafted by Denver
The Nuggets were a fun, high-scoring team in the 80s, but saw several key pillars of the team leave in 1990 – including Doug Moe, Alex English and Fat Lever. Although there were some exciting young players like Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Reggie Williams, Mutombo’s arrival accelerated Denver’s rebuild. The No. 4 overall selection was a defensive force for the Nuggets and would make his presence felt immediately as the team’s anchor at the center position. He would eventually become the first Nugget to win Defensive Player of the Year in 1995. Marcus Camby is the only other player in Denver's history to accomplish the feat, notching the award in 2007.
9. Containing David Robinson in his third game
It took only three games for Mutombo to showcase just how dominant he could be on defense. Up against a Spurs team that would finish the season fifth in the West on Nov. 5, 1991, the Congolese 7-footer was a nightmare for San Antonio’s superstar in David Robinson. Mutombo scored 21 points to go along with 13 boards and four blocks in the contest. He also would hold Robinson, who averaged 23.2 points a game that season, to just 17 on 5 of 15 shooting. The Nuggets would secure a 97-96 win
8. The Finger Wag: Started in 1992 his rookie season
Mutombo became a brand in Denver as his signature finger wag started in 1992 as a member of the Nuggets.
7. Beating Jordan’s 92-93 Bulls
Like many NBA stars during the Michael Jordan era, Mutombo saved some of his best games for when the Bulls were in town. Facing what would eventually be the third title-winning team from Chicago, Mutombo controlled the game on both sides of the court as he dropped 29 points, 22 rebounds and added three blocks. Thanks to the All-Star center’s efforts, the Nuggets were able to secure an upset against the Bulls with a 109-102 win.
6. Forcing Game 7 against Utah in the 94 playoffs
Although Mutombo is most remembered for his performances in the Nuggets’ upset against the Sonics in the 1994 playoffs, he was just as effective against the Jazz in a thrilling seven-game series in the Western Conference semifinals.
Mutombo averaged 13.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.4 blocks during the series against John Stockon and Karl Malone’s Jazz. Mutombo might have had his best performance in that postseason in Game 6 against Utah, forcing a game seven with 23 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and three steals to secure a 94-91 win. Although the Nuggets would lose Game 7, it was performances like that which helped turned him into a household name in the NBA.
5. Most rebounds in a game
Mutombo’s career-high in rebounds (31) came against the Hornets in a loss at home against the Larry Johnson-led Hornets on March 26, 1996. Though the center also chipped in 16 points, it wasn’t enough to slow down Glen Rice, who had 28 points, and Johnson, who added 20.
4. Most points in a game (39) against the Timberwolves on February 3, 1992.
Mutombo wasn’t known for his scoring, but the center had a funny way of reminding opponents of his prowess on offense. In his rookie campaign against a struggling Timberwolves team, Mutombo dropped 39 points on 12-of-21 shooting in a losing effort. He would only score 30 points in a regular-season game one more time in 1997 as a member of the Hawks.
3. Most blocks in a game
Mutombo would record 12 blocks against the Clippers on April 18, 1993 to help the Nuggets secure a 94-83 game. It was a feat so astonishing, it is still tied for fourth all-time in the NBA for blocks in a game. Elmore Smith remains the all-time leader for blocks in a game with 17.
2. 4.5 blocks a game in the 1995-96 season
Mutombo was a swat machine throughout his career, but he was most prolific in that area during his time in the Mile High City. The three times he led the NBA in block shots were during his time as a Nugget and he averaged 3.8 swats a contest during his five seasons there.
His best season in that category came in his final year in Denver when he averaged 4.5 blocks a game. To put that in perspective, he is currently tied for fifth all-time in the NBA for that mark, joining the aforementioned David Robinson in that respect.
Former Nuggets President Bernie Bickerstaff said it best in reflecting on Mutombo’s impact to the Denver Post:
“You talk about (Bill) Russell, I don’t think there’s anybody in his class defensively. But (Mutombo) had this innate intelligence and ability to read offenses. And even if you put him on the perimeter, if you got by him, his recovery and his chase down was right on the money because he knew angles. You’d think you had a layup after you got by him, but he was there.”Upset vs. Sonics Game 5
1. Upset vs. Sonics Game 5
Seattle won 63 games during the 1993-94 season, the second-most by the franchise in its history, but it didn’t matter when the team faced Denver in the playoffs that year. The Sonics had no answer for Mutombo in the first round and it ultimately cost them. The center would average an astonishing 6.2 blocks a game to go along with 12.6 points and 12.2 rebounds a contest against Seattle.
Mutombo might have only put up eight points against Seattle in the deciding game of the series, but he more than made up for it by adding eight blocks and 15 rebounds.