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Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 at 1:30 am  |  64 responses

Late Night Links: Good Night, Sweet Dikembe

Plus the Blazers strike back…

by Lang Whitaker

It was his voice, it was always his voice. Constantly hoarse, deep, expansive, strangulated, like a foghorn crossed with Kermit the Frog.

In the first quarter of tonight’s Portland/Houston game, Rockets backup center Dikembe Mutombo severely injured his left knee and taken off the floor on a stretcher. Considering Dikembe has already announced he would retire after this season, this probably ended his career.

The first year I tried to write about sports for a living was in 1997. (I saw “tried” because I made about $12,000 that year. So I’m not exactly sure I succeeded in making a living, unless living is eating only Ramen.) I managed to get some assignments for the local papers covering the Hawks—this was, gasp, before the internet—and, having nothing better to do other than play Madden against my roommate Matt, and having a press pass, I went to pretty much every Hawks game. Pretty much immediately, I figured out that Dikembe Mutombo was amazing. I hung around his locker all season, marveling at that voice. Somewhere deep in my archives, I have a minicassette with Mutombo singing, “Make ‘Em Say Uhhh.”

The lockout happened in ’98, and when the Hawks returned for training camp, the Falcons were on their way to becoming the Dirty Birds. The Hawks players were all talking about this at the time, and here’s what I wrote for a local sports paper back then…

Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo’s voice has two volumes: loud and extra-loud. When he turns a conversation toward the Falcons, his voice abruptly shifts into extra-loud. Though he claims he was at the airport to welcome the Falcons back from their victory at Minnesota in the NFC Finals, no eyewitnesses at the airport reported seeing the 7’2″ behemoth. When pressed on the issue, the truth comes out. At high volume.

“Yeah, I went to the airport, but there was too much,” Mutombo says, referring to the myriad of fans that turned up. “I had to leave almost before the plane arrived so I could meet them in Buckhead, because there was too many people there.”

“I think the fact that the city hasn’t been a major sports town for so long, people are happy,” Mutombo notes, looking extremely serious. “And all the kids now are wearing the Falcons t-shirts, Super Bowl t-shirts…it’s just a neat time. I think we as a basketball team have to approach it that way and can’t be ashamed to be in the same situation. Don’t let the fans down. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on us, but we’re going to play with a lot of excitement, make this city happy. Definitely after the Falcons win the Super Bowl.”

The Falcons made the Super Bowl, then got crushed. The Hawks went 31-19 and got swept by the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semis.

I wrote about my most recent Mutombo interaction in my All-Star Game wrap-up:

Flying out of the All-Star Game city is almost always a hassle, so Ryne and I got up early and got the Phoenix airport at 8:30 a.m. for our 11:20 a.m. flight. Of course, there was nobody in the airport and by about 8:32 a.m. we were through security with nothing to do. After we killed an hour with Hawks VP Arthur Triche at a café, we all headed off to our gates. I dropped my bags and went off to find a bathroom. A few minutes later I was walking back, and I noticed a really tall guy with only a backpack and a PlayStation 3 in a box just ahead of me. He turned and looked at me and I heard a dull roar. I looked up and it was Dikembe Mutombo.

He was on our flight to Houston and stuck in coach, which he wasn’t happy about. I was happy about it, however, because I got to hear Dikembe complain for about 15 minutes. Even better, I got Arthur to come over so I could say, in front of Dikembe, “Hey Triche, you still work for Hawk?”

I think I’ve explained that previous line before, but the quick version is that a bunch of us were at the team hotel at the All-Star Game in Washington D.C. back in 2001. Mutombo had been AWOL for about 24 hours, going to parties and hosting fundraisers and such, when all of a sudden he appeared in the lobby. He walked up to our table, looked over at the aforementioned Arthur Triche, and brayed, “Hey Triche, you still work for Hawk?”

Not Hawks, Hawk. It was hilarious then and it still makes me smile now.

Dikembe Mutombo will be remembered as an amazing humanitarian, a really good basketball player and a forgiving yet expressive dunk contest judge.

But I’ll always remember that voice.

His Rockets teammates nail it…

Plus, Special Bonus Mutombo Video!

(By the way, I am officially calling out NBC and Conan O’Brien, in the name of all that is good and holy, please, please, please release the video of Dikembe’s appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” from about a decade ago. Dikembe Mutombo sucked helium from a balloon and then spoke in a high, squeaky voice on national television and the footage somehow disappeared off the face of the earth. Put it on Hulu.com, whatever. If you have it on tape, email me. The world needs this right now. Come on NBA, call it the Mutombo stimulus package.)

OK, really quick, about the games tonight…

The Cavs destroyed the Pistons tonight, just absolutely demolished them. The final was a deceiving 84-72 — the Cavs had a 29-point lead in the third, pulled all their starters, then had to put them back in at the end when Detroit made a run against their bench players. The Pistons looked defeated out there, like they knew they were overmatched. I knew Joe Dumars traded away their point guard, but I didn’t know he traded away their pride, too. Between them and Michigan State getting drilled in the National Title game, been a rough few weeks in The D. It would be cool if Allen Iverson suddenly showed up for Game 3 and went for like 40.

Deke’s team, the Rockets, did what the Rockets do and melted down in Portland, losing 107-103. Houston, on the road, had the lead, fought with the Blazers, then let Portland take over down the stretch. As it impressive as it was for the young Blazers team to make plays in crunch time on both ends of the court, this was one that Houston should have won. They already stole homecourt in Game One, and they could have really put Portland on the ropes. But now Portland’s right back in there, and I wouldn’t be amazed if the Rockets give back a game in  Houston, either. For a team that’s run by such a smart guy who relies on stats and stuff, the Rockets sure do a lot of dumb things. (Like, Yao Ming took 6 shots tonight. Ron Artest took 20.)

I watched the Lakers run out to big lead on the Jazz, and watched the fourth quarter as the Jazz fought and fought and eventually made it a three-point game before they seemed to run out of gas. I thought the Jazz just looked tougher tonight, at least as tough as a team with baby blue trim on their uniforms can look. And when the game was on the line, the Lakers woke up and forced some turnovers and won going away, 119-109. Kobe threw a late elbow at Paul Milsap, appearing to connect with his armpit. That should make Kobe even more popular when they head to Utah.

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  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Lang, he said after the game he’s done for sure, no more basketball

  • price

    we will miss you deke

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    lang did you watch all of the portland-houston game? Although they do tend to go away from yao sometimes, portland literally had a guy behind and in front of yao almost the whole first half, Ron was hot and scored 15 in the first, i wouldnt completely say that was the killer tonight, it was the free throws they missed and losing deke place yao in foul trouble, which led to Roy having an open lane to the rim for most of the game and houston didnt rebound as well as they usually do.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Tzvi Twersky

    I met Mr. Mutumbo once at a barbershop. It was the best cut I ever got in my life, as we sat a chair apart and I listened to him and his barber have a “conversation.” Sidenote, dammit, he is the last of the great John Thompson centers to call it quits, after Ewing, Zo (and Othello harrington).

  • vmcb

    Damn, man. I’m really sad to see Deke end his career like that. but wow, what a career it was.

  • Superman Osman

    No more finger? That will take some getting used to…

  • Sean

    Mutombo is a god among men. Gonna go buy a jersey in honour. A great player and a great man. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him.

  • German Reignman

    Farewell Mt. Mutombo … I`ll never forget how he was lying on the floor, ball in his hands, crying after Denver eliminated the Sonics … it broke my fan heart, but you could never be mad at Mutombo for that, because he was, and is, THAT dude

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Lang, thanks for the Hommage to a great man. Heal up nice Deke.

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Last time (promise): “who wants to sex Mutombooooooooo?!!”

  • http://www.mynameinorange.blogspot.com Hisham

    haha way back when Detlef Schrempf was the German saviour BD (Before Dirk).

  • http://www.mynameinorange.blogspot.com Hisham

    The NBA just lost one of its greatest people

  • http://www.slamonline.com Blinguo

    Start with Deke, end the Links with an elbow (you’d thought Kobe would stop that after early in the year taking one to the chops himself finally). But not Deke’s inadvertent history of giving out face masks before even Rip Hamilton. Great guy. He should be the 1st of the NBA’s officially titled international ambassadors (if they don’t have this already in some fashion) and will always be apart of Summer trips to Africa with the big names and whoever else willing to go along, unless of course he retires to the Congo and pledges help firsthand to build more hospitals and schools. A 7’2″ guy would be a big help nailing ceilings up and such. God Bless and Godspeed Dikembe Mutumbo.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    Good job paying homage to one of the best defenders, most heartwarm and smartest guys to ever grace the NBA’s hardwood. I will truely miss Mount Mutombo and his finger-wagging extravaganza. Dikembe if you’re out there reading somewhere, I wish that your knee and your Congo heal up as soon as possible.

  • Torrance

    “What’s the name of the shop?” “Pasta Pasta – They named it after pasta.” Those clips made my day. You were a giant, Deke, in every possible sense of the word. Good luck in everything you do.

  • http://www.mynameinorange.blogspot.com Hisham

    Wow my comment read like he just died or something. I take it back. I think the piece Dave Zirin wrote on Alonzo Mourning in the last issue of SLAM applies to Deke as well. His life and his legacy are just starting. And he’ll also stay involved in the NBA. Keep giving back Dikembe!

  • Tuomas

    Thank you for all the great years, Dikembe. Well, excluding what you did to Shawn, GP and co. in ’94, that is. At least Kemp dunked on your head about ten times after that just for good measure. You made me feel less old these past seasons by remaining constant and productive. I’d say there are more important things in life than basketball, but you’ve probably known that since birth, so just keep doing good.

  • Tuomas

    Oh yeah, not much to add about the Pistons crapcake, other than the fact that they woulda had every chance in the world had they actually decided to compete and show up. Not at all painful to watch, not at all.

  • Slobodan Chutzpah

    Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo’s always been one of my favourite players in the NBA, and certainly my favourite human being in the league. Sad to see him go. Then again, the man is now about 68 years old and hasn’t retired yet, so who’s to say he won’t make another comeback? Laws of man and nature don’t seem to apply to the great man anyway.

  • Rocklet

    The league needs to keep him around somehow for sure. It’s called pasta pasta…they name it after pasta. A living legend.

  • dgr8t1

    deke, alone, makes the rockets deserving of a championship.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    What a truly great man. He will be missed. But his legacy lies beyond the boxscore. Or the Hall of Fame. It lies in his humanitatian efforts. Thats where he should really be remembered. Ball if life, but through ball he gave life.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Damn Deke.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Cheryl

    That’s my guy! I’m sorry to see him leave the game, but I sure hope he stays involved in BBall in someway. Can’t TNT hire him or something? I don’t know if he’s interested in broadcasting, but I really do hope to hear that voice in some capacity. Thanks for what you gave to basketball, but more importantly, what you give to humanity, Deke!

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    *humanitarian. Oops.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ BETCATS

    “Thats Rick Mahorn!” – Dikembe Mutumbo

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @BETcats: You’re thinking of Manute.
    @RV: Yep, I watched the Houston/Portland game. And I know they were fronting and playing behind Yao, sometimes at the same time. BUT YAO IS 7-6! And if you can’t figure out a way to get him open, then why are you coaching basketball?

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I also like that Mutombo is referred to as 42 years old in all the stories about his injury today. Yeah, and I’m 18.

  • http://nicekicks.com MeloMan13

    when i heard them say he got injured earlier in the game, i didn’t care about who won.
    it was so funny when someone asked him the name of the restauruant and he said “Pasta Pasta. It was named after Pasta”
    Mount Mutombo repped africa to the fullest

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  • http://www.broy7.com nate the great

    HALL OF FAME?! I THINK SO!
    i love this dood.
    man NBA is going to get weird.
    Deke gone.
    A.i. thinking about retirement.
    Shaqs old as dirt, same with Hill.
    ugh. NBA is going to suck for awhile.
    for me that is.
    child hood gods are getting to old to play. =[

  • Tommy Patron

    TNT could hire him and just have him show up places and ambush people, busting their balls. He could start by showing up on the Inside set and taking down Barkley.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    @ Lang: I KNOW! My Rockets need a way to get the ball into Yao. He still shot 50% from the field and hit all of his free throws.
    He’s 7’6, man! LOB THE BALL OVER PRYZZY AND LET HIM DUNK OVER GREG “THE BUST” ODEN.
    Man, I will miss Dekembe Mutombo for sure. One of my all-time favorite personalities on and off the court.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    And Ron Artest deserves to take 20 shots, considering he’s the second best player.
    Just as long as Yao gets 20, too.
    PS: Von Wafer is awesome. He needs more floor time.

  • J

    I’ve heard that Deke is actually Oden’s younger brother.

  • Plasticman

    55 forever.
    No doubt he will be honored by naming some award after him, and rightly so. Does the humanitarian award have a name attached to it? Blocks per game award! With the trophy just Deke’s hand, mid finger waive.

  • http://www.ojhoops.blogspot.com the baconator

    Damn, basketball lost a hero last night. Not only was Deke one hell of a player, but he was also one hell of a person for all his humanitarian work. Just sucks that his career had to end on a bad note. Next game the Rockets should have a moment of finger wagging in his honor

  • http://www.another48minutes.blogspot.com Gerard Himself

    Lang, I have never seen that Conan video, I really, REALLY hope you’ll get it. Doesn’t anybody at SLAM know someone at NBC?

  • http://www.another48minutes.blogspot.com Gerard Himself

    his voice is actually chewbacca like

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @Gerard: I used to know someone at NBC Sports and I asked him to try and get the video, but he couldn’t…

  • http://www.rich-imaging.com Dutch Rich

    Talent from 98.7 did an impression of Mutombo when he was with the Knickerbockers. Funnier than all the Rockets imitating him.
    Just e-mailed them to see if they have it online somewhere.
    Stay tuned, there’s gonna be a lot of pant-wetting when you hear this.

  • http://sejk.net b55

    please PLEASE not Hulu, use Vimeo or something that Europe can see.

  • Danny W

    I’m with Sean, I need to go out and get myself a Deke Jersey. I heard he was Bill Russell’s Father. The first NBA game I ever went to was Hawks at Boston in March ’97, and I think it was the first game Deke played after being told he’d get T’ed up for finger wagging an opponent. So he blocked shots and finger wagged the Boston crowd. I think the Hawks opened the game with a 23-0 run. Marty Conlon just wasn’t up to the task. Boston fans had ‘Welcome Tim Duncan’ as they were sure they’d get the Number 1 pick. Good memories Deke, thank you for all you did, and thank you in advance for all the good you’ll undoubtably do in the future. Starting Center for the Kinshasa Rockets anyone?

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Moose

    Deke, you were great. I’m sure you’ll be great outside of basketball, too. Like Zo.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com BETCATS

    wow i cant belive i got those 2 confused.

  • http://www.another48minutes.blogspot.com Gerard Himself

    so this means Shaq now has played the most seasons of all active players…. sometimes you just don’t expect centers to have the longest careers. Then again, Kareem, Parish, now Deke and Shaq….

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Thank you Dekembe Mutombo, for a great career. The memories abound. The Old School is still the real school.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Man, Rafer should resign with Houston in the offseason. One of my favorite ball players.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Deke is also one of my all-time favorites. Man would it be sweet if I saw him on the sidelines for the remainder of the series, just cheering his comrades on. I hope so.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    centres generally do alright in the longest careers stakes, i mean, who wants a slow downed ol’ crumbly point guard…? Knicks organisation I’m looking at you…
    crumbly ol centres carry the NBA.

  • niQ

    gonna miss him foreally.

  • http://sportzin.com Joey E.

    Deke, much love. I’m gonna miss that finger wag.

  • blackpinoy

    cant bear to see deke like that..he’s one of my favorite players growing up beacuase of his finger wagging thing..It made everyone want to block shots too…zo is gone.deke is gone..shaq cant run anymore…i think im getting old..all my childhood heroes are retiring..hey when did scottie retire?! anyways the NBA wont be the same without these guys..they just dont make players like they use 2….thanks deke…maybe you should consider singing professionally…

  • Oliver

    i haven’t commented on here in ages…..i just enjoy reading and leave it at that, but when a LEEND like Deke is done, it’s worth takign the time to respect his career and what a great guy he seems to be as well. God bless Deke!

  • reidz

    co sign oliver!

    Deke is legend on and off court!

  • Slobodan Chutzpah

    I also agree with Oliver: Dikembe sure is a leend.

  • http://mindyourbusiness@getalife.com Allenp

    That’s a funny, authentic dude.

  • Daniel

    My favorite Deke memory is when he stood up at the State of the Union Address, and was literally twice as tall as Laura Bush. And the crowd went wild!

  • http://double-technical.blogspot.com Zee!

    COOOOOKKKKIIIEEEEE!!!!!!

  • whalleywhat

    He didn’t die.

  • cody k.

    Dikembe mutumbo…. I have followed you so much in the last two years, ever since you began starting for Yao. Im 15 years old and can honestly say you are my favorite player. Im not lucky enough to remember you in your prime.{I heard you were o.k haha} So if in the off chance you come across this, this is one of your biggest fans asking for just one more season…I mean c’mon your ageless:)

  • Tuomas

    I almost shed a tear reading your comment, cody. See mine for reference.

  • Maya

    Deke was one of my favorite players,and i’m only 12 years old,Dikembe,as an african,i’m proud to say that he’s a G.S.B.O.A.T.=Greatest Shot Blocker Of All Time

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