Dikembe Mutombo made his retirement official last week after rupturing a tendon in his left knee while tangling with Portland Trail Blazers rookie Greg Oden. But the 42-year-old center already knew the end was near. "Aaron Brooks was six years old when I came in the league, Chuck Hayes was eight," Mutombo said of his young Houston Rockets teammates. "I played against Patrick [Ewing], then I was still playing when his son made the league. That tells [me], Deke, it is time for you to check out."
In 18 NBA seasons with six teams, Mutombo was a four-time defensive player of the year who famously wagged his long index finger at drivers who dared to attack his basket. He finished second in league history with 3,289 blocked shots (behind the 3,830 of another former Rocket, Hakeem Olajuwon) while earning eight All-Star invitations despite an anemic career average of 9.8 points per game. Houston re-signed him in January not for his dwindling skills—he totaled 114 minutes this season—but for his charismatic leadership in the locker room, where Mutombo worked to help transform the injured Rockets into a serious contender.
As intimidating as the 7'2" Mutombo can be, he possesses one of the league's warmest, not to mention most enormous, smiles. And he has captivated teammates and fans with a deep, raspy voice that rises and falls like notes from a trumpet. Last week he became the first two-time winner of the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, in recognition of his tireless work (not to mention the $18 million he has donated) to build and maintain the hospital he opened in 2007 in his native Democratic Republic of Congo. The NBA has lost one of its most distinctive and distinguished personalities, but Mutombo's commitment to charitable ventures will keep him relevant for years to come.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A Florida police officer and high school jayvee football coach was charged with allegedly biting one of his players on the nose to motivate him.
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP (MUTOMBO)
HAPPY TRAILS Mutombo played just nine games in his final NBA season.