2000 - Male Recipient Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo is the seventh of ten children born to a school superintendent and a Sunday school teacher in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where life expectancy is a mere 47 years. In 1987, a 7'2" Mutombo arrived in the United States on an academic scholarship to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He planned to study to be a doctor and to return to the Congo to practice medicine. That plan turned out to not be quite what the doctor ordered. At age 19, in his second year at Georgetown, Mutombo picked up a basketball for the first time. Coach John Thompson invited Mutombo to join the University's basketball team. Mutombo soon became a basketball heavyweight. Mutombo was a true student athlete, graduating with dual degrees in linguistics (fluent in four languages and five African dialects) and diplomacy, while developing into the fourth selection overall, to the Denver Nuggets, in the 1991 NBA draft. While with the Nuggets, Dikembe set a franchise record in blocks in 1993-94 with 336 and led the 8th seated Nuggets to a first round upset over the 1st-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in the 1994 NBA Playoffs. In 1996, Mutombo signed a five-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Dikembe has led the Hawks in rebounding every season, including leading the NBA in rebounding in 1999-2000. In February 2001, the Atlanta Hawks traded Dikembe to the Philadelphia 76ers.
It took Mutombo no time at all to start turning his success into help for his homeland. In 1991, he created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the health education, and quality of life, for people of the Congo. In 1996, Mutombo provided uniforms and expenses for the Congo women's Olympic basketball team. And during the off-season, he travels to Africa on behalf of the NBA, conducting basketball clinics for as many as 2,000 children per day. He has made four goodwill ambassador trips in five years to Africa. His foundation has constructed a 300-bed general hospital in Kinshasa. In 1999, Mutombo donated $3 million to buy ten acres of land for the site and to start construction. He has also shipped $250,000 worth of medical and pharmaceutical supplies and 40 beds to existing hospitals in the Congo.
In addition to his involvement in his homeland, Mutombo is associated with Strong STARTS (Schools Taking Action to Reach Troubled Students) and was a spokesperson for the Atlanta Hawks Team Up program, which encourages youths to be community active. He also uses his linguistics degree to tape PSA's in French, Swahili and English for the International Broadcasting Bureau-Voice of America, promoting immunization with the goal to vaccinate ten million children in the Congo.
For his efforts to improve his homeland, Dikembe was named the winner of the USA Weekend magazine's Most Caring Award. He was also the recipient of the NAACP's Phoenix Award, has served as international spokesman for CARE, and is the first Youth Emissary for the United Nations Development Program.
A few NBA career highlights:
- Defensive Player of the Year 1994-95, 1996-97, and 1997-98
Seven time All-Star
- NBA All-Defensive First Team in 1996-97 and 1997-98 and Second Team in 1994-95 and 1998-99
- Currently in sixth place on NBA's all-time blocked shots list (2/2/01)
- Led his team in rebounding for the past nine seasons
- IBM Award for leading the Hawks in rebounding (12.2 rpg, third in NBA), blocked shots (2.94 bpg, fourth), and field-goal percentage (.512)
- Denver Nugget's all-time leader with 1,486 blocked shots, including a franchise record 336 in 1993-94, and ranks fifth in Hawk's history with 541
- Seventh player in league history to reach plateau of 2,500 career blocked shots on 12/28/00
- Eight Career Triple-Doubles
- The Sporting News' top 100 "Good Guys in Sports" in 2000 and 1999
- USA Weekend magazine's Most Caring Athlete Award 1999
- NAACP's Phoenix Award