TBT: A Look At Dikembe Mutombo’s Career In Denver


In 1991, things were much different than they are now. There were no smart phones and Face-timing someone meant going to their house. Michael Jordan was in his prime, and the Sonics were not just a fast-food restaurant, but also an NBA franchise.

Besides MJ and the Chicago Bulls being in the middle of their first three-peat, something else happened that would change basketball history. Dikembe Mutombo, a 7’2″ center out of Georgetown, was taken in the draft that year by the Denver Nuggets. Mutombo, who was well-known during his time as a Hoya, was just oozing with potential.

After being accepted to Georgetown on a USAID scholarship, he had high hopes to become a doctor and return to his home country of Republic of the Congo, to help his people combat the multitude of illnesses that beget a third world country. Plans changed when he was spotted by legendary coach John Thompson on campus, and the rest is history

Mutombo went on to become one of the most prolific shot blockers in not just Hoyas history, but NCAA history racking up 354 (3.7 per game) rejections over his three years in Washington DC. He was selected fourth overall and achieved so much during his five year career as a Nugget.

In his first season, Mt. Mutombo really turned some heads. His rookie year, he posted a career-high 16.6 points per-game, to go along with 12.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per-game. That year, he accomplished something very few rookies ever do — make an All-Star Game. In addition to an All-Star nod, he was named to the All-Rookie firstteam and from there he became the face of the franchise, and one of the premier defensive players in the league.

In his second season, Mutombo upped both his rebounding (13.8 per-game) and blocks (3.5 per-game), and saw his scoring dip slightly (13.8 per-game). However, the Nuggets struggled as a team under first-year coach Dan Issel and went 36-46 on the season — fourth in the Midwest Division. One of the bright spots for the team was leading the league in rebounds, with 46.7 per-game, which helped lay the groundwork for future success.

His third year with the Nuggets, he averaged 12.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, and a league leading 4.1 blocks per-g. He also led the team to a 42-40 record, just sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed. In the first round, they matched up with the Seattle Supersonics — the number-one overall seed, and the favorite to represent the west in the finals. After falling behind 0-2, they came back and pulled off the biggest upset in Playoff history by winning four straight games, becoming the first team to beat a first seed as an eighth seed. Mutombo set an NBA Playoff record for blocks through five games, with 31 — a record that still stands today.

Jan 20, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Former NBA player

Dikembe Mutombo

receives the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award prior to the game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In the second round, the Nuggets faced the Utah Jazz, who were lead by two all-time greats in John Stockton and Karl Malone. The Nuggets (shockingly) matched up well with the Jazz despite the fact that they lacked any real offensive weapons, and they made it a series. After falling behind 0-3, Mutombo and the Nuggets rattled of three straight wins before they fell in Game 7.

The 94-95 season started with much hope after the unlikely success in the postseason the year before. Mutombo’s career-year helped the Nuggets sneak into the Playoffs after finishing fourth in the Midwest Division — arguably the best division in basketball at the time. While averaging 11.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and (again) leading the league with 3.9 blocks per-game, Mutombo enjoyed his second All-Star nod, while locking down Defensive Player of the Year honors. That year, the team had an early exit in the Playoffs, falling in the first-round to the division rival San Antonio Spurs.

In his fifth and final season with the Nuggets, the team struggled to a 35-47 record and missed out on the playoffs for the first time in two years. Mutombo enjoyed one of his best seasons yet, averaging a career-best 4.5 blocks per-game (which was good for his third consecutive season of leading the NBA in blocks) and earning his third overall All-Star nod.

After Mutombo left the Nuggets during free-agency, he went on to enjoy a great career with several different teams, while making the All-Star team a total of eight times, and earning Defensive Player of the Year honors four times. He was also named to the All-NBA Second team once and Third Team twice. Mutombo earned respect on the court with his play, and off the court with his character — something few players can say.

He has gone on to do great things for his home country, like building the first hospital in his hometown in nearly 40 years, most of which was paid for by Mutombo out-of-pocket. He also has helped globalize the NBA, becoming one of the global ambassador, opening the door for many African players like Serge Ibaka and Gorgui Dieng. Mutombo is the perfect example of how an NBA player should conduct themselves on and off the court, both during their playing days and after.

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