Dikembe Mutombo's post-NBA passion: Giving back
SI.com is taking a look at the lives of some of sports' most notable former players across the NBA, NFL and MLB. From weighing in on life in retirement to providing their analysis on today's crop of stars, these athletes share their thoughts.
I've always had a passion for giving back. It's a family tradition that comes from my devout parents. They were always giving back and serving the community. So when I became fortunate enough and blessed to play the game of basketball, I was also fortunate enough to follow in my parents' footsteps and give back like the way they did.
I've always felt obligated to help those less fortunate than me. It's an obligation that anyone who has a chance to be in the NBA should feel and act upon.
If I had not played basketball and made the millions of dollars that I had made I would never have been able to build a hospital in Congo. It started in 1997 and 10 years later I was able to unveil the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, named after my mother, in my hometown outside of Kinshasa. It was such a blessing. While the door to my NBA career was closing, another one was opening in my life. The NBA has given me so much more than just basketball.
Now I'm a global ambassador to the game. Last week I was in London for the league's Global Games. The job has a lot of responsibilities, a lot of speaking engagements and a lot of work. But I love it. I'm lucky to be able to change the world and get the opportunity to work with Commissioner David Stern and the rest of the NBA. So maybe people dream about having a chance like this, I'm actually getting to live it out. My wife tells me I'm actually busier in retirement than I was in the NBA!
When I travel around the globe, I try as hard as I can to represent the NBA and the game of basketball to the best of my abilities. I get to go around the world and not only share the game but also my philanthropic work. Building a hospital in the Congo is one of the proudest achievements of my life.
But it wasn't an easy one. I had no idea how to go about building a hospital at first, it was just an idea. Kids come up and ask me, "Mr. Mutombo, where did you get the idea? How did you build a hospital?" You just have to search your brain and chart out the vision. Eventually, that vision can turn into a reality. It's hard for me to explain, but if you believe in something deep enough it can happen. To look back at the work and time it took to build that hospital makes me so proud.
It never seemed possible when I was a player. Look at how busy an NBA player is. They have crazy schedules. They play the game one day, go to another city the next, play another game and repeat over and over. You have preseason, training camp, the playoffs. It's pretty much impossible to find spare time, let alone to build a hospital! People ask me how I was able to do all of this, but what I try and tell them is if you have a great family and great support, you'll find a way to make it work.
Now that I'm older, my goal is not change and to just keeping being me. I want to build a school in the Congo in the next two years. We're raising money right now and doing very well. Those are the types of things I want to be involved in. I want to have an impact. I want to change people's live.
I'm so thankful for the work I've been able to do with the NBA. Our volunteer work has led us to build schools, libraries, basketball courts and other things in different communities around the world.
Next month I'll travel to New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game and the All-Star Day of Service. We are going to revisit some of the schools and areas that were re-built a couple years ago after Hurricane Katrina and refurbish some of the buildings. It gives people a chance to see a different side of our players and see them in the community. We are really excited. The All-Star weekend is the only time we get to pick our players and challenge them and make them serve the community that cheers us on. I can't wait get down there.
As told to Matt Dollinger of SI.com.