Dikembe Mutombo thinks he deserves induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The 7-foot-2 Mutombo will be eligible beginning in 2015 after his retirement following the 2008-09 season. He ranks second on the NBA's career blocked shots list (3,256), behind only Hakeem Olajuwon (3,830) and he says surpassing every player but Olajuwon on that list should alone merit inclusion into the Hall. Mutombo was also a four-time defensive player of the year, an eight-time All-Star and twice the league's top rebounder (2000-01).
"If you can see my name just below one of the great basketball players to ever play for this league," he said Wednesday, "for me to come this close to breaking his record, I don't see why I cannot be on the same bus with him. That's how I look at it."
On Wednesday, Mutombo joined a group of former NBA and current WNBA players visiting the Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, part of the league's NBA Cares initiative. The event kicked off the NBA's All-Star festivities in Houston this weekend.
Mutombo played for the Rockets from 2004-09, and he swung by the Toyota Center this week, catching an admiring glimpse of the statue out front honouring Olajuwon. Mutombo also played for Denver (1991-96), Atlanta (1996-2001), Philadelphia (2000-02), New Jersey (2002) and New York (2003-04).
But he feels his closest bond to the Rockets and owner Leslie Alexander, who offered financial as well as organizational support for Mutombo's personal crusade to build a hospital in his native Congo. Mutombo started his foundation in 1997 with a personal $19 million US donation to benefit the people of his homeland. In 2007, he opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center there, named after his mother.
"At the end of my journey, I see myself as a Rocket," he said. "That's where I ended my career, and also the organization that did so much for me. They knew I had a vision and I went to work for the owner, who's a man who believes in philanthropy and believed in me as a player."
Mutombo says his hospital has become one of the best in Africa, with 185 beds and state-of-the-art equipment. He says it's treated patients from nine different countries on the continent and he's close to securing an agreement under which U.S. diplomats could receive medical care there.
"We're very pleased with this dream," he said. "Sometimes, I sit down and I cannot believe that it is a reality — that a young man like me was able to build a hospital in the continent that is going through so much, and a country that is going through a civil war. Somehow, the hospital survives."
Mutombo was recognized in former President George W. Bush's 2007 State of the Union address and he's also the only two-time winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given for "outstanding service and dedication to the community."
While he thinks he has the credentials to earn Hall of Fame induction as a player, Mutombo acknowledges that he'd like to gain entry to offer inspiration to underprivileged children in Africa.
"It would mean a lot for the many generations coming from Africa," he said. "More African children would say that, one of us did it, we can do it, we cannot hold ourselves back because of the poverty of the place where we grew up, the trouble that's surrounding our community. When the opportunity is presented to us, we have to seize it. That happened to me."