Blogging is an useful tool, particularly when you're desperately trying to forget about the completely bawful performance by your favorite team. So I decided to indulge and join the thousands of NBA fans around the world that are saying goodbye to one Dikembe Mutombo.
It's time like these when I feel hopeless and wish I weren't a nearly-illiterate blogger. How can I put into words the sadness a sport fan feels when a truly great player closes the door on his career? It's a combination of factors: the selfish knowledge that you won't be able to enjoy watching him play again in your life, that no player will be like him - maybe similar, but never alike; the sorrow of seeing a truly talented person finally reach that stage in his life when his body is unable to keep up with his mind, his will; maybe simply the change in the status quo, the sudden lack of a constant presence in the back of your mind when you thought of the NBA.
Mutombo is a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, an eight-time NBA All-Star, he ranks second in NBA's all-time blocks with freaking 3,289. He's also a kind man with a joyful heart and an open smile, someone that has spent millions on his native Congo, building hospitals and homes. He's the man of the thousand anecdotes, Mount Mutombo, one of the best centers of the last two decades. He's Mr. Finger Wag.
I haven't said anything NBA fans don't already know, and have no new material to share with you. I wish I had, but most of my memories are locked inside my mind and there's no YouTube app to get at those yet. I'll just pick some that are meaningful to me, and try to explain why. For instance, I remember watching him play against the Blazers last Saturday and smiling at the fact that Deke was able to pull two finger wags on his first game of the playoffs. He seemed ageless, eternal. I could imagine him finger-wagging at harebrained 19-year-olds as a 50-year-old vet after blocking their shots, shaking his head at the impetuous youth of the new century.
It's not going to happen now - but at least let's enjoy one of the last times his trademark wagging could be seen, after blocking Sergio Rodríguez [EDIT: Because Rodríguez is white and short, and he's definitely NOT Travis Outlaw. Yeah.]:
Rodríguez's claim for fame
Yes, he was undoubtedly a phenomenal player. Unfortunately, he might even have problems making it to the Hall of Fame. This is a league that prizes offensive production above anything else, and not many will speak up for a guy best known for anchoring defenses down low and blocking shots. That's the NBA, too. "Defense wins championships", but it doesn't sell many tickets.
That's not to say he was perfect. There's many compilations of different players "climbing Mt. Mutombo", many plays in which Deke was too slow, didn't time it right, was simply overpowered. Yet in my mind this simply adds to his legend: how many players today would stand in front of the strongest players in the league and risk ridicule and posterization for an unlikely block? Mutombo only cared about stopping his opponents, and the compilations you may find on YouTube are there for a reason: dunking on Mutombo mattered. When Jordan did it he answered Deke with a finger wag of his own, and as a fan I couldn't get enough of it.
But far more importantly, he was a phenomenal person. There's no more obvious proof of this that the following video, that a friend fittingly described as "Assorted Houston Rockets imitate the inimitable Mutombo bass":
Nice try, but no cigar
I'm a guy that plain enjoys dunks. Hell, I even have a blog about dunks. Mutombo is a player that dedicated his best efforts to thwart dunks - perhaps just to make them rarer, more valuable. But that's not to to say he couldn't throw it down, too. I thought it was fitting to end this post with a dunk of his own, from his rookie season.
It was the 1992 All Star Game. His averages for that season were spectacular for a rookie: 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3 blocks. And during the game, Deke showed off once again his aweinspiring athleticism by altering a shot, running the break and then receiving a pass from Jeff Hornacek for the two-handed dunks. Beautiful.
Who will block Mutombo?
There's not much else to add. I just needed to get this off my chest, to shake off the feeling of hopelessness as a mere fan that sees one of the great ones finish his career on such an unfortunate note. I just needed to thank him for so many memories of excellence.
So farewell, Deke. Godspeed, and may you finger wag at your grandchildren for many years to come.