Dikembe Mutombo is a big man. Not just in physical statue but in reputation and influence. He is a retired professional basketball player that stands 7 feet 2 inches tall. But his humanitarian efforts cause him to stand much taller.
Dikembe played 18 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award four times and was an eight-time NBA All Star. He is commonly called the one of the greatest shot blockers of all time, surpassed in the NBA only by Hakeem Olajuwon. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year.
If you don’t know Dikembe Mutombo, you don’t know much about professional basketball in the United States. If you know him, you are well aware that his trademark is a “finger wag” after blocking a shot. Today that finger wag is used in the face of life threatening diseases like malaria.
Outside basketball Mutombo has become known for his humanitarian work. He paid for uniforms and expenses for the Congo women’s basketball team during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. He is a spokesman for the international relief agency, CARE, and a long time supporter of Special Olympics.
Mutombo contributed $15 million to fulfill a lifelong dream in 2007 by opening the doors to the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center. This is the first hospital that has been built in the capitol city of Democratic Republic of Congo. The 300-bed hospital will provide health care to people in Kinshasa where Mutombo was born. The hospital was named BiambaMarieMutomboHospital, for his late mother, who died of a stroke in 1997 at age 64.
Mutombo continues to work to eradicate childhood diseases like malaria that prevent one in five children in the sub-Sahara Africa from reaching age 5.
Last Thursday night Mutombo attended a gathering of folks in downtown Atlanta who are engaged in the fight to eradicate malaria. I stood beside a giant- not because of his physical statue but because of his passion to improve the lives of others.
“It is a lesson of life,” Mutombo said. “We all are here for a purpose. My purpose is to make a difference to society, not just by being a good human being, but to contribute to lives. I’m changing lives and the living condition of my people.”
Jesus said he came so that people could live life to the fullest (John 10:10 CEB). “Abundant life” (KJV). The Message translates those words to indicate that his purpose was to provide “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
I think that includes quality of life during our time on Earth as well as eternal life in the hereafter and I am glad for people like Mutombo who give themselves as co-workers with Christ to that end.