Q+A: Dikembe Mutombo

dikembe mutombo

by Adam Figman / @afigman

Dikembe Mutombo is excited to see us. “I like your magazine!” he announces as soon as we walk into an adidas suite in the back of a courtyard in the center of New Orleans’ W Hotel. “You guys have the best trash talk!” Naturally, we were pretty psyched, too; hanging with a legendary NBA big man and chopping it up about two of our favorite things—sneakers and basketball? Works for us. With his adidas Mutombos back in stores, the eight-time All-Star spoke to us about the re-release of the kicks, his relationships with current players, his NBA Mount Rushmore and more.

SLAM: How’s everything going with the re-release of the sneakers?

Dikembe Mutombo: I’ve been very excited. I think it’s a great gift for adidas to do this for me. This is a company that I started with during my career, who saw my career take off, and when I had all the great moments over my career, I did it with adidas shoes on. So to bring back something that represents my culture, my values, my style of play, it’s always good to all of the great fans who got a chance to see Dikembe Mutombo play—and even some of them who never got a chance to see me play. 

SLAM: Right, young kids are into sneakers as much as anyone.

DM: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s very cool. It’s surprising to me. Everywhere I go now, from my kids’ school to any school I visit, the first thing I get is, “No, no, no!” And then, “Mr. Mutombo, we want to get some of your shoes, but we can’t get it!” To see the volume of the demand, I’m very, very thankful.

SLAM: In what way does the sneaker represent your style of play?

DM: When you look at it, the M [on the tongue] represents the back, the defender, the guardian of the village, the castle, protector of the basket. That’s me. That’s what I was known for, to protect the basket. You have [the spear], which means that I’m capable of killing any enemies that come my way, which means to stop anybody that tried to dunk on me. It’s just what I am, and I’m glad that adidas was able to go in that direction.

SLAM: When you first signed with adidas, did you have an understanding of how impactful the shoes you were wearing could be?

DM: I knew that it was something magical, but when you come to the League, your legacy depends on how you go out and play. But I’ve said since day one when I came to the NBA that I just want to be remembered as one of the best shot blockers in this game. So thank God that I did have the ability to go out and accomplish that mission. Today, I live in the history book.

SLAM: What kind of basketball lessons do you try to instill in your children?

DM: It’s all about mental focus. That’s the lesson that I learned from the great legend Bill Russell. It’s about your mind—the game is all here [points to head]. Bill Russell told me a lot before I got drafted. He spent a couple days with me and told me to stay focused, be mentally strong and if you consider every game your last game, you have a great chance to dominate this game for a long time. And I did it.

SLAM: Do you have tell current NBAers that?

DM: Of course. They say that the Olympics don’t end in one city—it goes on every four years to a different city. I always felt that the torch was passed on to me by great players, those who came before me like Bill Russell, Coach John Thompson—who was lucky enough to play alongside Bill Russell—[and] Alonzo Mourning, who was my teammate and who motivated me every day to challenge him. I feel like I need to do the same thing for the next generation. Every time I get a chance to go to a game, I always love to go to the locker room and talk to the young players, tell them, “You did this, you did that. Why don’t you do this next time you play?” 

SLAM: Any interest in coaching?

DM: No. I don’t want to coach in the NBA. I won’t say never, but right now, I don’t want to coach. I enjoy my role as an NBA Global Ambassador, to spread the game and spread our philanthropic work, and doing my side work with adidas, promoting my shoes. But coaching, and being on the bench 24/7, to that I would say, “No, no, no!”

SLAM: LeBron James named his NBA Mount Rushmore—Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. Who’s on yours?

DM: Magic, Hakeem Olajuwon, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and…

SLAM: That’s it. You only get four.

DM: I get only four? No, it needs to be five! I’ll take Karl Malone. You’ve gotta give me Karl Malone. I think there will not another power forward, ever, who will play the game at the same level as Karl Malone any given night—rebounding, scoring, defending, free throw shooting. There you go. You take my five.