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DJ Mbenga on Dikembe Mutombo

Dikembe_finger2 Before the second round series against Houston kicked off, Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo's career had already reached an unfortunate end after an in-game knee injury during the previous round against Portland.  And with yesterday's 89-70 Game 7 win shutting down the Rockets' postseason, Mutombo's NBA life is now officially concluded as well. 

With that in mind, I felt it appropriate to pay proper respect to Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo, whose achievements were even longer than his full name.  Most basketball fans were aware of Mutombo's round ball credentials:  Eight-time All-Star.  Four-time Defensive Player of the Year.  An absolute beast sucking up rebounds and swatting away shots, the latter achievement always followed by the infamous "not in my house" finger waggle. 

But despite the laundry list of NBA excellence (and the genius that was "Clouds"), Mutombo arguably made a bigger impact away from the game.  Check out the items littering his bio section.

  • Honored with the President’s Service Award in 1999 and the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2001
  • Acknowledged by President George W. Bush during the State of the Union Address on Jan 23, 2007, being applauded for his work done in support of African causes
  • Named one of the “Good Guys in Sports” by The Sporting News
  • Identified in 2005 by as the most generous professional athlete, ranking him first over Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods
  • Inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame on June 20, 2007
  • Created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation in 1997, a charitable organization created to improve the health, education and quality of life for people in his homeland of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Focal point of his foundation has been the construction and opening of the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center, a $29 million, 300-bed hospital in Kinshasa named after his late mother, which held its formal dedication ceremony on July 17, 2007. He has donated $15 million to build the hospital.
  • Donated $150,000 to help underprivileged children in South Africa
  • Participates in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, as well as the NBA and UNICEF “United for Children, Unite against AIDS” campaign
  • Paid for uniforms and expenses for the Zaire women's basketball team during the 1996 CentennialMotumbo Olympic Games in Atlanta
  • honored as the international recipient for the National Civil Rights Museums Sports Legacy Award in 2007

Yeah, that's kind of impressive.  It's hardly difficult to understand why Mutombo garners nearly God-like status in his native Congo.  I spent a few moments before LAL-HOU Game 2 talking with Mutombo's fellow countryman/Laker center DJ Mbenga.  Seeing DJ's face light up while praising Dikembe made perfectly clear how much he looks up to the Georgetown legend.  The generosity displayed towards Mbenga early in his career reflects the manner in which Mutombo strived to bless his entire homeland.  Acts that not only impressed DJ, but helped provide inspiration and confidence to establish his Mbenga Foundation.  Here's what he had to say.

Andrew Kamenetzky: How aware were you of Dikembe's NBA career as you were growing up in Congo?

DJ Mbenga: I started watching him when I was so young, man.  I didn't even know (about) basketball.  

AK: Was he just that big of icon in your country, regardless of whether or not you were into basketball?

DM: Actually, I met him when I made the league.  I knew about him before.  I used to watch him.  Like I said, I never liked basketball, but I knew him.  Now we're really close.

AK: How difficult was it for you to see his career end with an injury?

DM: It was funny, because I always joke with him.  I said, "If you don't want to stop, the basketball is gonna stop yourself."  (laughs)  But when I saw him fall down, I already knew.  When I saw him fall down, I was like, "It's over."  I was sad, and I was happy for him.  At least he stopped his career on the court, and not in a bad way.  Not like he was incapable of playing.  He went in and played.  He went in and proved (he could still play).  For me, he ended so good.  Like, beautiful.

AK: What has Dikembe meant to Congo, in terms of representing what you can do with your life?  What can be accomplished?

DM: He just brought inspiration for a lot of things.  Just a big brother for a lot of kids, because if you see what he did and even the way he talked, just to watch him make the league and do so well, it was an inspiration for everybody.  Even when I didn't like basketball.  And when I started playing basketball, he became a bg influence for me.

AK: You didn't start playing basketball at nearly as young an age as your teammates.  Did seeing what Dikembe accomplished provide confidence that you could reach the highest level?

DM: Yeah.  Of course.  When I started playing, like you said, I was pretty late.  But I would listen to him, and watch Hakeem Olajuwon.  (Dikembe) started when he was seventeen.  I was started when I was seventeen years old, too.  So it was nice for me to listen to him, spend time with him, and talk with him. He would say, "Listen. I started late.  I couldn't score.  But when I know what to do, that's what I gonna do."

AK: DId you look Dikembe up once you came to the States?

DM: When I came to the States, my first call was to him.  My first call.  I spoke to him.  And he asked me  how I was, how do I feel?  I'm like, "I just got here.  I really don't know all this."  He's like, "What you need to his is rebounding, block shots, listen and learn." 

I said, "I don't know, Be.  I was playing overseas before I got here.  My game is different."  Mbenga playing defense

He said, "No.  Do what I what ask you to do.  Do what I ask you to do for now.  And then when you get the confidence, (then work on scoring).  Just do what I ask you to do."  And I'm like, "I'm trying."

AK: And he was right.

DM: He was right.  One time (while playing for the Dallas Mavericks), they put me in the game against him.  It was so much fun.  We were talking (back and forth).  And after the game, we went to eat, and I said, "Listen, when you asked me to do that stuff, I understand.  I needed experience.  But that's not my game.  I'll shoot the ball.  I'll score.  I'll dribble the ball.  I'll make my moves."  He's like, 'Who do you play with on your team?'

I said, "We've got Dirk (Nowitzki).  We've got Josh Howard."

He said, 'All those guys, they score.  They don't need your points.  They need you on defense.  If you understand and realize that, you'll get the playing time.'   And before, I was like, "Yeah, right.  That's not true." 

If I got playing time, I would try to score, make my shot, until I was like, "Why?  Dirk is gonna shoot everything.  Josh is going to do everything." 

Then I just started just playing defense.  Blocking shots.  And I started to enjoying playing this game.  Defense.  Run.  Set the screen.  Little by little, building my confidence.  And then finally, when I was at the point where I wanted to be, I started to make my move.  Shooting the ball.  And then when we talked, he was like, "What did I tell you?" 

Even today, I went to talk with him, he said, "I see you have more confidence now.  Remember what I told you the first time we talked?  I knew what I was saying.  That doesn't mean, you don't have any game.  But you gotta know where they need you."

AK: Were you ever on the wrong end of a finger wag?

DM: No.  And I told him, if I ever block your shot, I'm gonna give you one of those.  But it never happened.  Every time  we played against him, I would wait for him to try and make a move with me, so I could block the shot and do him back.  But if I play (during the series), just for him, to give him my thanks, if I block a shot, I'm gonna do (a finger wag).

Unfortunately, Mbenga played just eight minutes and change during the series, so we never got an index finger tribute.  Instead, we'll just have to make due with the verbal variety.  And speaking of spoken tributes, if you've never seen this clip of various Rockets imitating Mutombo's raspy voice, immediately hit play on the following clip. It's hilarious.


Photo: Dikembe Mutombo and children.  Credit:
Photo: DJ Mbenga playing defense against Memphis' Darius Miles.  Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America

Comments () | Archives (22)

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What a great career for Dikembe Mutombo. Definitely a hall of famer, in my opinion. A terrific player and an even better humanitarian. It's unfortunate that his career has ended like this, but, like what Mbenga said, it is a great way to finish off your career--in the trenches, battling.

Gotta love DJ Mbenga.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


Rockets fan here. This was the game we truly missed Yao Ming. I knew the glizoids would adjust to Brooks penetration (finally), and we needed that low-post weapon No way Gasol gets 21 with Yao in there. No way he gets anything. Yao dominated him.
So you can thank your lucky oscars we lost Yao. At times we were actually better off without him speed-wise. But when one option gets blocked, you need that other option, which we didn't have.
Rockets put the fear of God in your hearts, and after this series was underway the glizoids reminded me of the mouse caught in the trap who decides he no longer wants the cheese.
Except perhaps for game 7, Adelman coached circles around Big Chief Triangle. One of these days Phil will have to coach without talent, and he will run upstairs to management quicker than Riles did in Miami.
Mutombo is indeed the greatest humanitarian and probably one of the most likable guys ever. Talent-wise, nobody--and I mean nobody--beats the great Hakeem Olajuwon.
Congrats to the Lakers. I still give Kobe a slight edge over Lebron because of Kobe's toughness. Although Kobe isn't always easy to like, after reading Coach K's book about Kobe's attitude of sacrifice on the US olympic team, I will always respect him.


Still hung up on the rockets are we?

Anybody wanna talk about Denver?

I always like to hear from mbenga, nice interview.
I never knew he set up a foundation , again thank you for the site link.

Didn't Landry do the finger wave in game 6?

Mutombo - huge career and huge humanitarian heart to match.

Awesome career for Mt. Mutumbo and that finger wag will always be a memorable thing about him. One of the best post defenders of the 90's and a decent scorer as well.

Sad though that the Lakers climbed on top of him in 2001 that prevented him from getting a ring but hey he was one of the best of his era. A real shot blocking/rebounding/defending threat.

Class act off the court and especially in the Congo. He had a fantastic career and always remember those finger wags.

Tom Daniels (not the great Laker Tom but still a good dude),

Agreed with on Jackson. If PJ coached like the way we (at least the majority) wants him to coach this Laker team would probably not have made part Houston. Glad to have a coach who doesn't bend down and send nothing but screen and rolls for Kobe or just "pound it in" to Pau/Bynum when there is so much more needed than isolation plays. Coaches like Jackson and Adelmen are great and use their talent to the best way overall rather than rely on individual talent to win. Coaches like George Karl and to a bigger degree Byron Scott use their talent to win and that don't win titles. George Karl is lucky to have a Chauncey Billups on his team since it is him who made the team so good as evident as how Detroit after Billups left was a shadow of itself.

Bynum better be coming out for those screen and rolls and be active defensively even if it is Pau's man setting the pick. If he doesn't come out look at Billups' production in 2004 Finals as a reminder since Shaq almost never came out to hedge the screen and roll (and Billups while being one of the best PG's isn't a speed demon like Brooks or a crossover freak like Wiliams). If he isn't active defensively even if his man isn't setting the screen then Chauncey will either find his man for a dunk (Nene most likely) or Kenyon if Pau can't recover in time.

Trevor will have his hands full this time and this isn't Ron Artest, Melo is bigger than Artest and he can play PF really well. Luke had some success defensively against the stronger Melo so he might get more PT if Ariza struggles against the stronger Melo.

Let's see how it goes. Lakers in 6/7. Maybe even 5 if we win both games in Staples and both times the Thuggets came to Staples with Chauncey Billups the Lakers have beaten them (though means almost nothing as the Rockets series showed).



Nice tribute to an all around good guy and excellent player.

More Dikembe Mutombo's in professional sports is what we all need.

Dikembe was great for the game and an awesome person in general. The NBA will sorely miss him. Gavion, just so you're aware, the Lakers did statistically better against the Rockets with Yao IN the lineup. In fact, the Rockets played their best ball with Yao either on the bench or hurt.

"One of these days Phil will have to coach without talent..."

Do the names Smush, Kwame & Cook mean anything to you? Actually, that last name does, huh?

How's the fishing out there?

One of the few true class acts in all of sports. Glad to see the media is really giving him his due. Always a respected defender, glad he's giving pointers to Mbenga, we all want to see him playing more and helping rest Bynum & Gasol...

Hahaha at Rocket guy, get over it... If you hadn't put all your money and hopes behind a skinny big man with weak bones then you wouldn't be complaining. The only comparison between Yao and Kareem I could draw would be the thin physique. How did Kareem stay dominant so long... and "dragging Lanier and Walton down the court for 48 minutes" to boot? Through great fitness, flexibility and workouts. Tell Yao to drink some milk or something. Hakeem the greatest??? um, did you forget Bill Russell maybe. Even Shaq was quicker and more dominant for longer than The Dream...

Speaking of Shaq and back to Deke... remember the spin move where Shaq blasts Dikembe in the face with the ball, then scores over him... priceless. Rock on Dikembe, sports need genuine people like you.

Lakes in 6!

Game 1 tomorrow and I am feeling more confident than ever!

Honestly, it is so amusing to hear what everyone thinks about this Denver/Laker series. So funny how people jump on the Denver bandwagon so quickly.

I will not enjoy anything more than beating those punks

I am already starting to get annoyed picturing their faces each game.

We will have a monstrous game tomorrow, I love the fact that we only have about 2 days of rest. The Nuggets will come out kind of sloppy, and as much as they want to convince themselvs that they can beat this team, they can't

I also see Andrew Bynum having a very good series from here on out. I expect to see a lot of our players be more consistent.

I have great respect for the Rockets, but it is hard to really respect Nugget fans who think their team is the best thing in the world since chocolate.

We will see what happens.

Honestly, I am predicting Lakers in 5.

{Lakers Secret Agent Jon K. Reporting From DEEP Behing Enemy Lines In A Burned Out Warehouse Within The Sullen Gray Wastes Of Northeast Ohio Surrounded On All Sides By Zombified LeBroniacs Pounding On The Barricaded Doors And Moaning, "BRAINS!!!!! I Need A Brain!"}

{Operation: Unleash The Bio-Chrono Weapon}

{TARGET: Kenyon Martin}


Okay... so here's how our "beloved" K-Mart is orientated.

Physical: Martin is spiritually/creatively orientated. This means the tension between feelings of attraction and repulsion govern his physical success.

Emotional: Martin is emotionally orientated. This means the tension between appreciation and resentment governs his emotional success/stability.

Mental: Martin is physically orientated. This means the tension between knowledge and ignorance governs his mental success/focus.

Creative: Martin is creatively/spiritually orientated. This means the tension between love and hate governs his creative potential.

Okay... here's how I'd play My Least Favorite Marti(a)n:

Physical: People who are attraction orientated thrive off of attention. This desire for people to be attracted to them is often so strong that they can present themselves in foppish ways as a means of drawing attention to themselves. So much so, that they can actually make themselves appear repulsive to others out of a desire to be attractive to others. Such is the case with Kenyon Martin and his superfluous number of gaudy, low-class tattoos. Those tattoos are there to try to be "cool" and to make himself more attractive (and even--yes, really--sexier) to other people.

So, he's definitely failed in that goal. So tattooless or tattoo-limited players should just make the hell fun out of his tattoos, noting that he looks ridiculous and repulsive to other people (particuarly the kiss tattoo). Note that everyone is watching and they all think him the fool.

Eventually, if you keep insulting his appearance, those insults will have greater salience to him and will, eventually, make him feel insecure, and he'll become self-conscious and hesitant in his physical decision-making.

Emotional: Kenyon Martin and Ron Artest are the same type emotionally! Who would have thunk it? {Sarcasm}

It's important for Kenyon Martin to feel that he is special and he is appreciated. As such, the guy probably plays A LOT better in Denver than he does other places where people are jeering him.

His emotional type plays well when they are a little angry, but sustained anger causes them to fall apart. They can't focus and they lash out. He also doesn't like to be around angry people for long periods of time, because being angry FOR SUSTAINED PERIODS is actually a reflection of great emotional pain for this type. So being around chronically angry people--FOR SUSTAINED PERIODS--brings out that emotional pain in them and they will shrink away from it.

So, play him angry, keep him angry, and he'll lose all emotional perspective and do stupid things.

If you're going to play mindgames with him, emphasize that you don't think he is anything special and communicate that his game (and person) is ordinary and boring... a common joke, really. He won't like that at all.

Mentally: Kenyon Martin is quite vulnerable here. The guy has a predisposition towards intellectual insecurity. One way to bring out this insecurity is to talk about things in his presence that he has no knowledge or depth of knowledge of and discuss it as if "everyone knows this stuff."

His type begins feeling highly insecure in these situations and will often blurt out information that is completely inappropriate and/or irrelevant to the discussion, in a desperate attempt to prove to the social group that they, too, are "knowledgable."

If/when he does so, don't even respond. Just look at him as if he was being socially inappropriate with a look that says, "What are you an iditot or something?" and then go on disussing the matter like he isn't even there.

This drives this type nuts and he'll lose mental focus in his insecurity.

Pau Gasol is reading a book on Halle Selassie and Ethiopia right now. I'm sure a lot of basketball players think they know a lot about Halle Selassie because of Bob Marley and all, but they really don't know squat. Pau should start talking about Selassie with Kobe in front of Martin in an oblique way. It'll go right over Martin's head and he'll become insecure as a result.

Stuff like that or some inside players union talk from Derek Fisher that Martin can't know, but present it like it's common knowledge. It'll bring out his intellectual insecurity which will hurt his focus.

Creative: Martin's not super-vulnerable here. If you want to undermine his creativity. Get him to hate your organization. Hate the Lakers. Perhaps the fans can assist with this.

If he becomes hateful towards an organization or group, he will become rigid in his decision making in dealing with that group and will not be able to actualize his creative potential or problem-solving abilities. He won't be able to respond dynamically, which is what we want.

There you go.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


A lot of sportwriters says the Lakers have no passion and heart, most notably Mark Jackson, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith. This team played without passion and heart in some of their games ( 4 games all losses) and yet they are in the Western Conference Finals. The scary part of this is what if the Lakers played all their play-off games with passion and heart? I guess all these sportwriters will be proclaiming the Lakers the N.B.A. champs (just like last year) right now. Come to think of it if they need to win a certain game they win it big and convincingly. Can the other three remaining teams do the same? What if they decide to play with pride, passion and heart from now on? Will they have a chance to beat the Lakers? Your answer is as good as mine.


Great thread on Motumbo. I always loved the guy’s heart both on the floor and in helping those less fortunate in his country. Unlike most of the players in the NBA who do token “NBA Cares” events for purely politically correct reasons, Dikembe was a true warrior for his people who will revered and loved for his kindness and caring far after his exploits on the basketball court have been forgotten.

He is and was a real life warrior. Best wishes for a long and prosperous post-NBA life for the great Dikembe Motumbo. The best side of International Basketball.



How funny and ironic that DJ didn’t start playing basketball until he was 17, the same age as Andrew Bynum was when the Lakers first drafted him. What a contrast. I like DJ and hope that the Lakers keep him. He has a good heart and like Sasha and Slava, never met a shot he did not like. LOL.


Brian F,

Great Roger Murdock reference in your post. LMAO. Airplane is still one the greatest comedies ever filmed. For those with short memories or those who love a good replay:


Joey: Wait a minute. I know you. You're Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You play basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Roger Murdock: I'm sorry son, but you must have me confused with someone else. My name is Roger Murdock. I'm the co-pilot.
Joey: You are Kareem. I've seen you play. My dad's got season tickets.
Roger Murdock: I think you should go back to your seat now Joey. Right Clarence?
Captain Oveur: Nahhhhhh, he's not bothering anyone, let him stay here.
Roger Murdock: But just remember, my name is
[showing his nametag]
Roger Murdock: ROGER MURDOCK. I'm an airline pilot.
Joey: I think you're the greatest, but my dad says you don't work hard enough on defense.
[Kareem's getting mad]
Joey: And he says that lots of times, you don't even run down court. And that you don't really try... except during the playoffs.
Roger Murdock: The hell I don't. LISTEN KID. I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.



I love the Media. Now the Lakers are dogs to the Nuggs?
This is the best news a Laker Fan could ask for. If I am Karl I am pissed.

Lakers in 7
Orlando in 6

Clevelands free ride has ended with Orlando. Something tells maybe Lakers want Cleveland after all. After blowing a couple of games and after watching there last 2 wins this Orlando team is very scary. Guys if we get past Denver we don't want Orlando.


The Lakers match up better against the Cavs than the Magic.

That much said, looks what happened when we got ahead of ourselves with the Rockets.

There is no Cavs.

There is no Magic.

There is only the Thuggets.


What do we play for? RINGS!!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


LOL at a leftover Rocket guy. We went 2-1 against a Yao led team. I'm not alone in thinking we would have won it in 6. A big immobile center changes the dynamics of the game. If you weren't a homer about things, you'd see that.

And about Yao "dominating" Pau, LOL. Pau dominated Yao by just being able to make in on the court for every game. You see, injuries are part of the game. The great paper champion Houston Rockets, picked by many to win the championship, amounts to nothing in real life.

As far as I'm concerned, Pau held Yao to 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists in games 4-7. You deal with the woulda, coulda, shoulda.


Very nice interview. That's one for the books.


Deke was a humanitarian off-court but an elegant wielder of elbows while playing. He left more teeth on the court than anyone else still playing in the NBA. The last of his era.



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