By all accounts, Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo is one of the
NBA's most charitable souls. Almost every summer Mutombo returns
to the Congo, where he was born, to conduct youth basketball
clinics and give motivational speeches. He has even donated $1
million to help build a hospital in his hometown of Kinshasa.
But with elbows held high in the low block, the 7'2" Mutombo is
no benefactor of opposing centers. Already this season his stray
joints have broken the noses of the Cavaliers' Vitaly Potapenko
and the Nets' Jayson Williams, and left others, such as the
Sixers' Matt Geiger, with swollen eyes and sore gums. Mutombo
says all of these incidents were accidental, but some players
say this Hawk with the wide wingspan is reckless--if not an
outright dirty bird. "He hit me in the mouth twice," Williams
says. "How much is a man supposed to take? [NBA deputy
commissioner] Russ Granik better do something about this unless
you want Jerry Springer out there." Adds Rockets center Hakeem
Olajuwon, "I think he's a dangerous player."
Olajuwon knows all about the dangers of flying elbows. He missed
25 games in '91 with a fracture of the right orbit after he
caught an elbow from Bulls center Bill Cartwright, another
player famous for loosening molars. Now Olajuwon says he warns
opposing players like Mutombo not to get careless. "I tell them
that I will retaliate," Olajuwon says.
Mutombo isn't the only player whose elbows could be classified
as lethal weapons. Jazz forward Karl Malone, Heat center Alonzo
Mourning and Raptors forward Kevin Willis also have been known
to do some damage. Mutombo himself suffered a broken nose Feb.
14 when he was hit by Philadelphia forward Theo Ratliff.
March 15, 1999
League vice president Rod Thorn was concerned enough that he
spoke with Hawks officials on Feb. 7. He didn't request that
Mutombo wear elbow pads--something the NBA has never required a
player to do--but he urged him to be more careful. "They want me
to play six feet tall," Mutombo says. "If I have to keep my arms
down that's what I am, a six-foot guy. I can't play like that."
Some opponents agree with Mutombo, pointing out that with his
angular build and awkward movements there's not much he can do
to avoid playing a little chin music. "He's pretty clean,"
Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal says. "He's just long."
Mutombo's elbows haven't caused any problems lately, but that
doesn't mean all is forgiven. On Feb. 23, just nine days after
Mutombo had his nose broken by Ratliff, Hawks forward Tyrone
Corbin suffered a similar injury when he was tagged by Mavericks
center Chris Anstey. "I guess we're getting payback for the two
Dikembe got earlier," Corbin joked.
If Mutombo won't watch his elbows for their sake, Hawks
opponents say, maybe he'll do it for his teammates. After all,
charity does begin at home.