Above: The Marcus JCC’s Rabbi Brian Glusman emulates Dikembe Mutombo’s signature finger wag as he introduces the basketball great to the crowd.
On Thursday, Feb. 4, the 2015 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee visited the Marcus Jewish Community Center as part of its Edgewise Speaker Series and spoke about his work to build a hospital in his native Congo. He personally spent $15 million on the $29 million, 300-bed hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.
Although he is not Jewish, the 7-foot-2 former center embodies the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
“I’m more proud of what I’m doing now that what I did in the NBA,” Mutombo said. “My goal in life is to just help people.”
The 49-year-old retired from the National Basketball Association in 2009 but has been active in humanitarian work since 1997 when he started the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve living conditions in the Congo.
Mutombo, who speaks nine languages, is also the NBA’s global ambassador and serves on the boards of the National Constitution Center, Special Olympics International and the CDC Foundation. In 2013, Mutombo appeared in a celebrated GEICO auto insurance commercial parodying his shot-blocking ability.
Joined by Dr. Lillian Schapiro on the stage of the Marcus JCC’s Morris & Rae Frank Theatre, Mutombo told the crowd that current NBA players need to be more socially responsible to communities in need. He pointed to LeBron James as a player who has given back to his community through his LeBron James Family Foundation.
“I have to pass my torch to the next generation of athletes,” Mutombo said.
Photos by David R. Cohen