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NBA Legend Dikembe Mutombo Being Treated for Brain Cancer

NBA Legend Dikembe Mutombo
NBA Legend Dikembe Mutombo Being Treated for Brain Cancer. Credit: HP Glover / Twitter.

Basketball Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, one of the best defenders in NBA history, is being treated for brain Cancer.

The 56-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is always engaged, socially and charitably, with his war-torn country’s challenges. His country’s modern history has known decades of civil war as world powers have struggled to control its mineral wealth.

Mutombo is receiving the best care possible from a collaborative team of specialists in Atlanta and is in great spirits as he begins treatment.

The 56-year-old Mutombo hails from the DRC (formerly Zaire), and has been a global ambassador for the NBA for years — he was the first person ever given this honorific in 2009.

During his long career, Mutombo played as a center for six teams including the Denver Nuggets, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Houston Rockets, and briefly for the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets (when they were based in New Jersey).

Many feel he will approach this challenge with resolve, and even good humor under arduous circumstances, which made him a legend on and off the court.

Mutombo among first African stars in NBA

Mutombo, an eight-time NBA All-Star, is second all-time in the league for blocked shots behind Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon.

He was also the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year four times — in 1995, 1997, 1998, and 2001. He’s one of only two players ever to achieve this.

Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo at the Aspire4Sport Congress in Doha. Credit: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar, CC-BY-2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Mutombo and Olajuwon were the first major basketball talents to make a name in the NBA, opening the door for others such as South Sudan’s Manute Bol and Luol Deng, DRC’s Serge Ibaka, Nigeria’s Victor Oladipo, Cameroon’s Joel Embiid, and Pascal Siakam, and of course Giannis Antetokounmpo, the “Greek Freak” born to Nigeria parents.

Mutombo was drafted by the Nuggets in the first round in 1991, before heading to Atlanta and Philadelphia. He played in the NBA Finals twice, with the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Nets, though both were losing efforts. He ended his pro career in 2009 after 18 seasons.

Dikembe’s extraordinary charity work

Long before retiring as a professional player, Mutombo started making a name for himself for his charitable endeavors, with a particular focus on his home country.

In 1996, he paid for Zaire’s (now DRC’s) women’s national basketball team’s trip to the Olympics in Atlanta, also covering their fees and purchasing their uniforms.

In 1997, he founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve the quality of life of people in his home country. His charity has a particular focus on youth education and healthcare. He even built a hospital in his country.

Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey shakes hands with Dikembe Mutombo during a Commitment to Service event where service members and Brooklyn Nets basketball players teamed up to help distribute food at a City Harvest food bank in New York, Nov. 6, 2014. Photo Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton/Released, CC-PD-MARK / Wikimedia Commons

He initially moved abroad on a USAID scholarship to study to become a doctor himself. But John Thompson, the late Georgetown University basketball coach saw his athletic 7’ 2” inch frame and managed to convince him to start focusing more on the sport he started playing as a 16-year-old back home.

Fans wish the finger-wagging fellow with the charismatic cookie monster voice strength in his fight against cancer. If the brain tumor tries to advance further, many will say “No, No, No.” Not merely in fear and sadness but like Mutombo often did with incredulous enthusiasm after blocking shots and defending the basket.

By Matthew Quest

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