Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/20/2006 03:20:00 PM
My Sportsman: Dikembe Mutombo
Dikembe Mutombo is as much a force off the court as he is on it -- he helped fund a $29 million hospital in his native Congo.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
By Jack McCallum
Dikembe Mutombo has never been my favorite player to watch and, as the years have gone on, he hasn't gotten any easier on the eyes. He moves in mechanical increments, head up, elbows out, more an Erector set come to life than an offensive force.
But Mutombo, 40, now a Houston Rocket in his 16th season, has never been much concerned with aesthetics. And he gets my vote as Sportsman of the Year because he has never been much concerned with championing popular, easy-to-sell causes either. Mutombo has taken on the challenge of improving life in his native Africa, that most overlooked of continents, a place that dies a little bit every day, and would be dying faster if not for humanitarians such as Mutombo, whose activism was forged by tragedy.
Born in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) as Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo, the 7-foot-2 Mutombo, the seventh of 10 children, was one of the first African athletes to make an impact in this country. He was an outstanding player at Georgetown, the third spoke in a center wheel that also spun out Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, and has ploddingly but faithfully plied his trade with six teams, becoming the first NBAer to win four Defensive Player of the Year awards. (Ben Wallace later joined him.)
When the press and the public dealt with Mutombo, they found a fascinating individual who was talking about the horrific conditions in his native land even before his mother, Biamba Marie Mutombo, died of a stroke in 1998 at age 64. She was 10 minutes from a hospital but was delayed from getting there because of a curfew brought on by continued civil unrest in the country.
The tragedy devastated Mutombo, then energized him. Construction of the $29 million hospital and research center named for his mother became the focal point of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation. He raised money by tapping various NBA players (Ewing and Mourning among them) and owners (the Maloof brothers of the Sacramento Kings donated $250,000) but also by reaching deep into his own pocket. Fifteen million dollars into his own pocket, which is deep, even for an NBA millionaire.
"I didn't want what happened to my mother to happen to anyone else," he said.
That was easier said than done. The scheduled September opening of the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center in the Congolese city of Kinshasa has been delayed by local politics. Mutombo said that he took him two years just to get the permits to begin construction.
"I think people felt I was promoting myself in the way where I can return back in the Congo and run for President," said Mutombo, who intends to do exactly that when his playing career is over.
But he soldiers on to get the hospital built and begin other projects. (Nelson Mandela, ex-Presidents Carter, Bush, Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are among his fundraising allies.) Last month in Orlando, some clown sitting courtside directed racial slurs at Mutombo, who had to be restrained from going into the stands after him. (The NBA correctly banned the man from attending future NBA games.) It was the greatest of ironies: a nimrod insulting the intelligence of a man who can make his arguments in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and several African dialects.
Mutombo's best days on the court are behind him -- he can still block shots and give his distinctive finger-wagging reproach but he is getting only about eight minutes a game -- but, in a way, his best days might still be in front of him. That's how it is for true sportsmen.
How about Kelly Slater. He just won his 8th world surfing title and does a TON of charity work as well. He is not very well known outside the surfing community, but all you need to do is a little research to find out he is a great humanitarian as well.
I knew Dikembe (also known to his friends as "DIKEMS") whilst he was attending Georgetown in DC. He trully deserves to be acknowledged and recognized before his career is over. This is the time.
Remember, this is a man in his senior year as a Hoyas (unlike many college stars), who still did not believe in his chances of making into the NBA. He was unpretentious and had his feet on the ground.
I am not surprised that he had spent 15 millions of his accumulated wealth, travelled all around Africa (especially to his native Congo and South Africa) reaching out to the youth and the needy, and working on many other projects through his Dikembe Mutombo Foundation. He is a true sportsman/humanitarian in "my book".
Does the name Roger Federer ring any bells? If not, three majors (plus a finalist at the French), twelve titles, and a 90-5 record put him on a planet far removed from most athletes. Oh yeah, he's also already assured to surpass Jimmy Connors as having the longest consecutive tenure as the number one ranked tennis player in the world come February 2007.
Please continue to highlight outstanding athletes such as Dikembe Mutombo. You briefly mentioned the nimrod in the stands who cowardly lobbed racial taunts at Mutombo and then correctly dismissed him as irrelevant. Mutombo is the embodiment of a true hero. SI should continue to devote more focus to athletes like him and less attention to many of the other types of athletes in the sports world who, in the long run, are as irrelevant as the loser who accosted Mutombo.
Mr. Mutumbo should be call Sportsman of the Year and Humanitarian of all times. It's always a joy to find out and hear that someone is always willing to help the African Nation which is obvious being neglected. I pray that this world as a whole come together to solve the neglect all over.
My vote goes to tennis star Roger Federer. Nobody comes close to being the best in his sport as Roger. Not only being the best in his sport but his attitude in that positition should be admired by everybody.
so many poor examples of sportsmen, so few examples of the virtue of the business that is sport.
While Dikembe may not qualify for a singular or example of the true definition of sportsman, his efforts off the court reflect well on all of sport and most particularly on that of basketball, a sport that is sadly lacking for positive modeling for today's youth.
Drew Brees has lifted the City of New Orleans at a time when we desperately need it. HIs character on the field, off the field, and in the locker room has led the faithful to a place where we can hope and dream again - very refreshing and uplifting!
How about the guy from the Boston area that does marathons and triathlons with his son? The son has cerebal palsy (I think that's it) so he has to push and pull him the whole way. They use the attention to raise money for charity. There's also a guy from the Baltimore area I think that does marathons pushing different handicapped children so they can experience the thrill of racing. Makes me feel more than a little inadequate that I just live my life. Mutumbo would be a great choice too, even though I never liked his game.
I think the award should go to the men and women athletes of the United States Service acadamies. They are playing the game for love in an era when athletes are taking steroids to get ahead. And each of these kids joined the acadamy when there was a war going on. They can tolerate losing at the schools but they won't tolarate cheating. They are examples of what is right with the youth today.
I think Dike is the greatest. No his game is not like Yao's. But he is a great Humanitarian. I think he should get the HAOY award. All the people he has already helped and is goig to help. What has Roger Federer done except win money and trophies. Dike should win hands down. You go boy!!!!!
Please tell me you're kidding! Dikembe is a great man, but the title of SOY belongs to an athlete that has been dominant over this past year. I hope you meant to say "My Humanitarian of the year: Dikembe Mutombo" and then only I will agree with you 100%.
As far as the SOY award, there's only one person I can think of that has been unstoppable. Roger Federer with a 90-5 record this year ! 3 out of 4 grand slam winner ! Made all the grand slam final this year. Need I say more ? I dare you to name anyone who has dominated their sport respectively as Roger Federer.
Tell me anyone that has devoted more than Mutombo??? I know, he is not a "champion" or easy on the eyes as a player. He literally has risked his life (he had Malaria once). What more does he need to do to earn the Sportsman of the Year award? If he doesn't win this year, he never will.
It's like Hitchcock, Kubrick, or Scorsese never winning an oscar for best film director!