A man for all seasons, all continents
He is a pretty good basketball payer too for an old guy. I remember how I used to dislike his trademark finger wag after he blocked a shot, but now find it part of the fun of watching the many play. I hope he is a role model for other players and other people on this continent and other continents.
If you're really lucky, you get to meet a Dikembe Mutombo maybe once or twice in your life.
He's a man of faith and charity, a man of humility and dignity. He understands that God blessed him with certain gifts and that with those gifts come responsibilities and opportunities.
His smile lights up every room he enters. He laughs a lot and makes others laugh, too.
Indeed, it's that booming laugh and raspy voice and huge smile that have made teammates laugh for all 17 of Mutombo's NBA seasons. Or maybe it's the way he still bounces down the hall on his way to the locker room, how he seems to look for the good in everyone and every day.
Mutombo's lasting imprint was that he understood he could make a difference, and he did so with both his money and his time.
His charitable work is why President Bush invited him to the State of the Union address a year ago, and it's why NBA commissioner David Stern lavished him with praise and admiration Wednesday night.
"He's a great man," Stern said simply.
Mutombo has led or been part of charitable efforts on five different continents. Stern remembers accompanying him on a trip to South Africa in the early 1990s.
"I was there at the beginning and watched what he wanted to do," Stern said. "I was there for his first meeting with Nelson Mandela. I've been in love with him ever since."
Alston and others say they'll remember how Mutombo never lost his love of the game, how he never seemed to have a bad day.
Fans will remember him for being the second-greatest shot blocker of all time (behind Hakeem Olajuwon) and for that signature finger wag. They'll remember him for being one of those rare people who gets it in every sense of the word.
He contributed $15 million of the $29 million he raised to build a hospital and research center in the Congo. He's involved in an array of other charitable efforts.
"When we did our mission statement, we said basketball is No. 1 and social responsibility No. 2," Stern said. "NBA Cares could be Dikembe Cares because he sets the standard for social responsibility."
During a video tribute that aired at halftime Wednesday night, Mutombo's teammates poked fun at his voice and his unshakable belief that he has never fouled.
Beyond the laughs, though, was the understanding that this is a remarkable human being and that each and every one of them is lucky to have known him.
"I wish every player in this league had a chance to be his teammate," Tracy McGrady said. "He's inspiring."
After Alexander and Stern had finished speaking, after the gifts had been given and it was time for Mutombo to speak, he did so only briefly.
"I just want to thank God for all His blessings," he said.