“It takes one person all the time,” says former NBA all-star Dikembe Mutombo, smiling, as he shares his philosophy on how to change the world. “I’m doing my part, you do your part, he’s going to do his part… combine it all into one, and we are going to make the world a better place for the next generation.”
On July 25 at the Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, Mutombo walked athletes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo out of a small entrance tunnel of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and into the outspread arms of over 60,000 fans, cheering for each country just as loud as the next. Though the athletes basked in the limelight and the setting Southern California sun, this was no new experience for Mutombo, as he had made the same journey from Africa to America over 25 years ago in hopes of pursuing a doctoring career at Georgetown University.
After being recruited to play basketball and going on to become an eight-time NBA All Star, four-time defensive player of the year, and symbolic image of the vernacular basketball term “getting stuffed” (which included a finger wave and a verbalized “no no no”), Mutombo has made it his goal to give back to his home country, spreading awareness wherever he goes.
“I’m telling [these athletes} that we are going to change the world, and we are going to change this society” says Mutombo, “and when I go back to Congo, we are going to open the office of Special Olympics and start talking more about people with intellectual disabilities.”
In addition to supporting the 2015 Special Olympics World Games and playing in the unified basketball game, which intermixes Special Olympic athletes as well as celebrities, Mutombo is also the president of his self-named charity foundation, which helps the Congo and other African nations establish better educational institutions and healthcare standards.
“My goal is to lower the mortality rates in Africa, where women are dying at the age of 45 and men are dying at the age of 43,” he says. “My question remains: why can’t they live above that? How can we stop the mortality of the young people? Why haven’t we been able to stop that?”