It is not given to everybody to meet a great gentleman. It is a very rare opportunity that sometimes never happens in a lifetime. Dikembe is physically tall, 7 ft 2 in, a great man by his heart but also by his actions. Pioneer, he has paved the way of the NBA basketball for a gang of african players but also as an example for giving back.
An american concept consisting in being grateful to the community for its contribution to your success. Dikembe works for humanity. As I told you, this gentleman is great and he retraces his journey with us.
Could you introduce yourself, please?
I am Dikembe Mutombo, a Congolese and American citizen. A ‘son of Congo’ as they say here. That’s where my blood and my roots are, that’s where I come from, I grew up and spent my childhood.
You were the 3rd African player upon your arrival in the NBA, things have greatly evolved today? What do you think looking at the diversity in the NBA and how do you explain the large number of african players?
There are plenty of them, more than twenty. When I was in college, there was only Olajuwon, Manute came later and then many others followed. I am proud as a pioneer, they’ve walked in our footsteps.
Do you know them all?
Yes, at least by sight. I would say that I know the name of 80% of them. The numbers will increase as there are more than a hundred young Africans in American schools and more than 200 in secondary schools.
They’re a bit like your little brothers, right?
Yes, they even have my children’s age now.
Have NBA players come out of all the basketball structures you set up in Africa?
There are 2 or 3 players from Basketball Without Borders, including the youngin from Minnesota.
In the 1990s, you funded the Women’s DRC team for the Atlanta O.G., What’s the state of basketball in the DRC today?
The feminine level is not as good as in the 80s/90s. Similarly for the men’s basketball but the juniors are going strong. I spent the summer with my family there. The future holds some beautiful things for us.
You were the king of defense, which consists in sacrificing oneself in the service of the team. These are qualities that we find in your personal life with all your humanitarian work. Why is it so important to help and give for you?
It’s a family duty, a principle I inherited from my parents. Make the Africa of tomorrow a better continent than today, in the social and health care domains. I am fighting day in and day out for this goal.
You came to the USA to become a doctor, are all these actions a means for you to carry out this mission 30 years later?
It’s all about health. Basketball represents physical health, any advice is mental health. The campaigns on cancers, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria… are about health. I am on the CDC’s board (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), UNICEF, United Nations, I am called everywhere to talk about health. More than a doctor who gets up in the morning to go to work in a public institution, we build the infrastructure.
Speaking of construction, you have built the Marie Mutombo Hospital. 18 years later, what is the outcome?
It’s been 20 years and the results are tremendous. More than 200,000 people have received treatments… so, that shows what a simple citizen can do for his country with God’s help.
Is the DRC going in the right direction?
We can not talk about health without talking about politics. My concern is for the Congolese people to one day afford medical care. The hospital is paying but 50% of the population can not pay.
How were you recruited by the NBA for the position you currently hold?
I did my studies at Georgetown, and was one of the best academic defenders in 91. I was predicted a bright future, and I accomplished on the ground what was expected of me. My ability to deliver made me a global ambassador.
What do you do with your days? What is the job?
Many trips, speech engagements, discipline and stress.
You manage stress well?
Of course, I would never have made an 18-year career as a professional athlete without that!
How do you organize yourself among all these associations (Basketball without Borders, UNICEF, Make a Wish Foundation, CARE ..)? Don’t you make a mistake sometimes?
I have a good team around me. 2 collaborators of more than 20 years including my wife and my daughter, it makes 4 people.
After all this work done, why not rest?
I rested, I left basketball after 18 years. I got involved in other things. I am only 50 years old, but there is still plenty to do. I have a lot of concerns for the condition of women, I have a daughter. A society cannot develop without solving women’s issues, their health and their future.
Our moms represent the nucleus of society, we have to do everything so that they themselves are productive, otherwise it will be the end of the world. In Africa but also in Europe and America. Atlanta where I live is the city where there is the highest rate of prostitution in the U.S, there is kidnapping in Nigeria, women’s slavery in Mauritania. These are problems that affect us all as human beings. There is still a lot
Do you have a message for the youth?
Never give up hope, always have faith. If you do not have faith, it means your future is lost. I was able to accomplish all this because I have faith. Nothing frightens me, one day we will all leave this world but it is with your work and your sweat that you will remain. Nothing will falls from the sky, 60% of the African population is under 24, they must be convinced to study, become entrepreneurs, innovate.
Forget the government! We must awaken our young people, the future of our beautiful continent is in their hands. They just have to go to work. People think it’s hard today but they do not know where I come from? Where did I sleep? How did I go to school? Where did I find shoes in size 22? People do not know my life.
They applaud on your arrival but nobody is interested in the path that brought you to the top. Alonzo, Pat Ewing, Coach Thompson pushed me when I wanted to give up. My father, Papa Samuel, gave me a definitive warning: “When you get on this plane, do not go home without having any diplomas.” The notion of studies has disappeared, many of our compatriots come to seek life, they want to work but never forget your studies. My Mom said, “School will be your dad and your mom.” You can not succeed in life
If you want to become like Dikembe, sit down with Papa Mutombo and ask me what I did, what I added in my dish. Many people leave Georgetown without becoming a professional basketball player, without having 40 millions to put in a hospital. People want to see the river without knowing where its source comes from. There is still a long way ahead of us.