BWB Americas

FIBA - Generous Mutombo sees the bigger picture

BUENOS AIRES (Basketball Without Borders Americas) - We know Dikembe Mutombo is a giant.

The 7ft 2in NBA centre from Africa has long arms and legs, extremely large hands and massive feet.

No one in the league has larger feet than his size 22.

But what all of us may not know is that the biggest part of this man is his heart, for in his life, Mutombo has used basketball, and the vast sums of money that he has made from the game, to benefit others.

That was the case when he wrote million dollar cheques to help fund the building of the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital back in Congo, as well as when he created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation three years ago to provide humanitarian assistance to his homeland.

If there is a good cause, Mutombo finds it.

And that is why he is in Buenos Aires this week. The Basketball Without Borders Americas(BWB) camp organised by FIBA and the NBA is there.

Mutombo and other NBA stars like Emanuel Ginobili are in Argentina talking to teenagers about the sport but also emphasising the importance of healthy living.

It fits in nicely with his philosophy on life.

He is not only fulfilling his promise as a basketball player, but trying to pave the way for others, the people he calls "the next generation", to have opportunities, too.

"I enjoy life, and what God made me to be," Mutombo says.

"(At BWB) We are trying to reach so many people all over the world and teach them about playing basketball, and to be leaders and to make them better citizens.

"As long as we can reach some kids and get them to change their lives, it is worth it.

"If we can reach 100 of those kids and send them back to their communities, other kids will see how they do and follow (their example)."

Mutombo is an almost mythical figure for African basketball fans because he has played at the highest levels, beginning at Georgetown University under coach John Thompson.

Thompson's name will come up in conversation with Mutombo in Buenos Aires as many of the BWB campers will ask him about his college basketball experience.

Mutombo says of the Hoyas legend: "My college coach was the most influential person in my career.

"He's like a father who wants to see his kids become successful. If you are a father in the household and want the kids to be successful, the kids will want to make you proud so they will work hard."

Mutombo's first seasson in the NBA was with the Denver Nuggets in 1991-92.

He played in Colorado for five seasons, and later had spells with Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and last season Houston.

Since playing in the NBA, the 39-year-old Mutombo has been an NBA All-Star seven times, and four times has been voted Defensive Player of the Year.

Mutombo's home continent is dominating the international headlines this week as leaders prepare to gather in Scotland for the G8 Summit where African poverty is on the agenda.

"So much is being said about how much money will be given," Mutombo says.

"Africa is tired of promises - they want them to be delivered.

"I think we have to wait and see.

"The continent of Africa is disappearing because of HIV, AIDS, malaria, a lack of clean water.

"There are a lot of issues and I hope things will happen."

Not many Africans have been as fortunate as Mutombo, or other African NBA stars like Hakeem Olajuwon.

"We try to set an example and pray that others will follow," Mutombo said.

PA International's Jeff Taylor interviewed Dikembe Mutombo on behalf of FIBA