President Obama shakes hands with Dikembe Mutombo at the ‘Let Freedom Ring’ concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Monday. (AP Photo)
It’s always nice when you can point to a “pro athlete does good” story. And when the President of the United States helps to honor your humanitarian achievements, you’ve clearly done plenty of good.
The good guy athlete in this case is former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, who starred in the pivot for several teams in 18 seasons on the court, but clearly knew how to use his success for the best. Mutombo was honored Monday night for the work done through the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve health, literacy and lives in his native Congo.
“You never know what direction your life will take you or … what road you will travel, but your chances of success are certainly greater with an education than without one,” Mutombo said as he accepted the Coach John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award during an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Mutombo said he sold fruit and vegetables for about $1 a day in order to pay his school fee in Congo before coming to Georgetown university, where he briefly studied medicine before coach Thompson persuaded him to hit the hardwood. He still ended up with dual degrees in linguistics and diplomacy.
Mutombo’s namesake foundation works combat childhood diseases in Congo. It also opened a hospital in Kinshasa, which has served more than 25,000 patients.
President Barack Obama praised Mutombo (real name Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo) for giving back to his nation’s people and honoring King’s legacy of service. Obama said the 18-year NBA veteran was attacking problems in Africa in “with the same ferocity with which he used to block shots in the NBA.”
It’s not the first time a president has honored the renowned shot blocker. President George W. Bush singled him out during the 2007 State of the Union address for his accomplishments and recent U.S. citizenship:
Mutombo played for six NBA teams, was the league’s top defensive player four times and was selected for eight All-Star games during his career.