Dikembe Mutombo retired from professional basketball following the NBA playoffs in 2009. Yet even at the age of 54, he remains confident he could still roam the paint and swat away the attempts of the game’s premier post players. “Of course, I would,” says Mutombo. “Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokić—those are my two picks for MVP this season. If I were on the court with them, they would be able to get a few shots up, but only a few. I would remind them I’m the master of ceremonies.”
During his 19-year career—in which he played for five teams and was named the Defensive Player of the Year four times—Mutombo blocked 3,289 shots, the second-most in NBA history. He punctuated many of them with a finger wag. It’s a signature move he employs in Geico commercials, which have introduced him to a whole new generation of fans.
“Everywhere I go now, I hear, ‘No, no, no!’ And I say, ‘No, my name is Mutombo!’” he says. “I never thought what I was doing on the basketball court would become a signature part of my life. To me, it was fun to do it, even though I was fined so many times for it. People forget that. I lost a lot of money on that finger wag; I got so many technical fouls. I had many conversations with the commissioner about it, but it all worked out.”
Mutombo even performs the gesture while playing himself in Coming 2 America, the sequel to the 1988 Eddie Murphy hit. “I’ve been getting phone calls from friends all over, even in Africa, where they are watching the movie in French, to say congratulations.”
But most of his time these days is spent on far more serious endeavors. His Dikembe Mutombo Foundation built the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital (named for his mother) in Kinshasa, his hometown in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And last year he broke ground on the Samuel Mutombo Institute of Science & Entrepreneurship (named for his dad) in Mbuji-Mayi. “My parents taught me to leave the world better than I found it,” Dikembe says. “I have been so lucky in my life, and I need to give back, always.”
If you’re wondering what keeps Mutombo fueled up to tackle these projects, well, that brings us to his other passion. “I’m a coffee lover,” says Mutombo, who drinks several cups a day to caffeinate his 7'2" frame. “I love to drink coffee,” he says, “and my country produces some of the best coffee, but the world doesn’t know about it.”
Coffee has historically been an important crop in Congo, but production has plummeted in the past 20 years as violence and civil unrest have racked the country. “It almost destroyed the fabric of our society,” says Mutombo. “It destroyed our history and the way we are portrayed.”
So he is doing his best to shine a positive light on his homeland, something he did often during his playing days, when he twice won the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. He launched Mutombo Coffee, a line of signature roasts and is sourcing his beans from Congo and other African countries—with a focus on closing the gender gap in the coffee industry.
Women do the majority of the fieldwork, harvesting and sorting, but see very little of the money, so Mutombo Coffee does as much business with women farmers as possible.
Creating a sustainable and viable enterprise, as well as building a supply chain in the middle of COVID, remain Mutombo’s focus. His character and track record offer a glimpse into the vigilance and discipline that has made the Hall of Famer so successful off the court.
“We are adding what it is missing,” Mutombo says. “Our contribution to the coffee world will really mean something.
“Basketball gave me power to change the world. I was able to improve my community; I was able to change lives and make a better living situation for women and children in Africa. That is what we’re doing now with coffee. We also want to improve the lives of our farmers.”
This clearly isn’t a case of an athlete throwing his name and likeness on a cheap product to make a quick buck. One look at what goes into his brand’s signature blend, Mutombo #55 Coffee, shows how seriously he takes his joe.
The brew comes from arabica beans that are grown on volcanic soil and then aged in oak bourbon barrels. Other flavors—Mutombo is a big fan of flavored coffee—include cinnamon bun and white chocolate macadamia. “We are not selling coffee because I am Dikembe Mutombo,” he says.
“We are selling coffee because the coffee is so good.”
Just like during his playing career, Mutombo continues to credit his teammates. The development of his coffee brand moved at a fluid pace during COVID, he says, because everyone was so committed to the vision of sharing coffee from the Congo with the world.
“On the business side, COVID meant that everyone was around and available for us,” Mutombo says. “I am blessed to be surrounded by such good people, and I give all that credit to the team around me. They’ve really worked so hard.
“We all believe in this. We have female farmers that are going to show a whole other side to the Congo.”
This fall, Mutombo is going to have to carve even more time out of his schedule to get back to his alma mater, Georgetown, where his son Ryan will be a freshman on the Hoyas basketball team. (He’s the third son of a Georgetown big man to follow in dad’s footsteps, behind Patrick Ewing Jr. and Alonzo Mourning’s son Trey.)
That means Mutombo will need even more fuel, which is fine for a java lover who’s looking to change the world one mug at a time.
“There is so much meaning behind every cup, supporting women farmers,” he says. “The world is going to learn a whole new side to my home country.”