Hall of Famer Mutombo inspires pride, regret in Kinshasa

Tue Apr 7, 2015 5:07am EDT
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By Aaron Ross

KINSHASA (Reuters) - When Dikembe Mutombo's brother first brought him to the Kauka sports club in this working class neighborhood of Kinshasa in the early 1980s to play basketball, the gangly teenager struck few as a superstar in the making.

"It was his second or third day here and the team was doing a jumping exercise, like this," laughed Albert Dinabena, the former equipment manager, mimicking a frog hopping across the court. "And he fell square on his chin! It left a huge gash!"

Within a few years, Mutombo was off to Georgetown University in the United States, where he became one of the nation's top collegiate players.

After being selected fourth in the 1991 NBA draft, Mutombo would be named to the all-star team eight times. He emerged as a fixture of American popular culture for his trademark finger-wag after blocked shots, of which he registered the second-most in league history.

Mutombo retired in 2009 after 18 professional seasons but he received his highest honor on Monday when he was named to the Hall of Fame.

In Kauka, in the shadows of the decaying stadium where Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fought the "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974, people recalled toughness as one quality that helped elevate Mutombo to international celebrity.

After busting open his chin, Mutombo went for stitches, Dinabena said, pausing for effect before adding: "Without anaesthesia!"

His more than 7 foot frame marked him out. At the end of training, it was Mutombo's job to stow the ball for safekeeping atop a corrugated roof three metres off the ground that only he could reach.   Continued...

NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo laughs during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game Legends Brunch at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports