Q&A: Dikembe Mutombo

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Thursday, April 02, 2015 with No comments
Courtesy of Nicki Jhabvala

Q. Tell me a bit about what you're doing for "Hoops for Troops"
A. "We are partnering with USO (United Service Organizations), PlayStation and the Department of Defense, in collaboration with NBA Cares. I will go to reach out to our men and women in uniform and their families on their return and their commitment, and talk about education. This collaboration we have with them is great. Our young men and women are doing so much for this country, and we want to serve them, as well."
Q. Of course people here remember you most for the 1994 playoffs. What was that like for you? And where does it rank among your top career moments?
A. "It's one of the top moments. I think people always say that when Dikembe Mutombo came here, he was born. That was when, really, I established myself as being one of the great defensive forces and great defensive presences. After being drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1991, going to the NBA, I made a statement that I will change how people see the game of basketball in Denver, I will change how fans come and have fun in McNichols Arena, I will bring a different perception of the game and the Denver Nuggets were going to win not just because of their offense, but were going to become one of the defensive forces that people had not seen before. It was a promise that I had to keep. And I also told people that by the time I retired, I want to be remembered as one of the great defensive players to ever play this game. 
"So every given night, it was a challenge. I knew that I had to prove to people that I was right."
Q. Did you enjoy your time in Denver?
A. "Of course! There's nothing like playing here, living here and being surrounded by these beautiful Rocky Mountains. And people were very friendly here. And they think it snows a lot in Denver. It really doesn't."
Q. Since Carmelo Anthony left, in 2011, it seems like star players don't view Denver as a top destination. Are you surprised by that?
A. "I'm shocked to hear that. It's not like I left Denver on my own. This is really a beautiful city. It's a great basketball town. We sold out; it was really tough to get a ticket to a game in the '90s when I was playing here. I think it's just about the commitment of the player and their personality. It's something the city and the fans and the owner need to look at: What can we do as a community, a business, as people to ensure that those who come here to Denver appreciate the city and get a chance to enjoy it. You see the success the Broncos have, you see the success the Nuggets had in the '90s — I don't see why we cannot bring the momentum back. I think the moment will come for this city to have a great basketball team again.
Q. You said earlier that the ending to your time in Denver was "one of your regrets."
A. "It's one of the regrets of my career because my choice was to stay here. When was I was playing here, the success I was having here — the success I was having off the court and on the court — gave me the opportunity to be in the playoffs and playing with some great teammates. There was no envy on the team. Everybody was just happy to be a part of the Denver Nuggets and wear the Nuggets uniform.
"I didn't get an offer. Today we see the superstar of a team getting an offer even before the season is done. But the Denver organization said, 'You know what, we thank you for your five years, but we don't want nothing to do with you again.' It was shocking. 
"When I went to Atlanta, we would start winning more than 57 games a season. So I took a step back, and I was like, 'Why did they let me go? What did they not see in me?' Nobody really came forward from the organization to say what was the motive. I had built a house -- a nice home that I was going to live in with my wife and kids. We lived in the house for only three months before learning that I was not coming back. When I left, after the (1995-96) season, I really didn't even come to pack my belongings. I sent my godparents and the trucks to go in to pack my stuff and send it to me in Washington, D.C. It was very sad."
Q. Did you want to play your entire career here?
A. "Yes, I was very happy. It was great, because I end up falling in love with nature. Colorado offers you that. You get a chance to see the summer and the winter in the same day. And you can escape to the mountains, you can go to Vail, Boulder, you can go to the casinos, Steamboat - you have all of those great cities here."
Q. You've done so much off the court. What is your proudest accomplishment?
A. "I think my proudest accomplishment, besides playing basketball, is my service to humanity. What I was able to accomplish through my foundation ( Dikembe Mutombo Foundation) by building a $30 million hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I think that was a great gift of life — not just for this generation, but for generations to come. Nobody can take that away from me."
Q. I'm going to give you a second chance at this, to make any changes from your previous answer on  The Sports Show AM: Who is on your all-time team? Top five.
A. "My top five, as I said earlier would be Magic Johnson at the guard. I'll bring in No. 23 (Michael Jordan) at the shooting guard. My small forward would be Larry Bird. My power forward would be Karl Malone. And I have to bring Bill Russell, with great respect. He was just amazing defensively. If it was not for his ability to protect the basket and help his teammates like he did, he could not have won 11 championships in 13 years. There is no basketball player who will ever be able to accomplish that or get that close. So you have to respect the man."
Q. So, no LeBron. No Kobe. None of those guys.
A. "LeBron's been in the league, what (12) years and won two championships? Bill Russell won 11."
Q. Fair enough.
A. "Fair enough."
Q. Do you see any of yourself in any of today's players -- that toughness, that shot-blocking?
A. "I will say that there are a few young, talented players who are coming up and are continuing to improve. There's a young man who plays for the Utah Jazz, the French boy. He's doing a very good job."
Q. Rudy Gobert. You know the Nuggets traded him in 2013, on draft day, for Erick Green and cash, right?
A. (Long pause as his jaw drops). "You're kidding?! The same way they let me go in 1996? Do they regret it?
"You know, there's so much talent in the NBA now. Players will stay, players will go."
Q. Congratulations on being named a Class of 2015 finalist for the hall of fame. What was it like when you learned you were a finalist?
A. "I was shocked that it happed so quick. For me, in hearing my name being called at the All-Star Game, I was like, 'Whoa. The son of Congo. There we go again.'
"If I get chosen on Monday (April 6), I'll be the happiest man because that will be the end. That's the highest you can go in your lifetime as an athlete."
Q. Well, you'd have to celebrate.
A. "Oh, it's going to be a big party. Don't worry about it. It's going to be a big party in September (after the induction ceremony), and it's going to be a big part this summer. We are prepared."
Q. One last question: If you were running the Nuggets today, how would you fix them?
A. "I would go and find out who we have to protect the basket. We could have a thousand people who can score 50 points a game, but if we cannot defend we're going to lose every day. I think that would be my approach, to bring in at least three guys that will give me, day in and day out, great rebounding and blocked shots, and prevent everyone from getting a layup and force a team to beat us from outside."