Q&A: Dikembe Mutombo on the modern NBA, Vince Carter and more

Dikemebe Mutombo is one of the greatest shot-blockers of all time. He won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award four times and was also an eight-time all-star. However, in retirement after his 18-year Hall of Fame career, Mutombo is on the offensive about how great of a basketball market Canada has become.

“I love it here. It is a beautiful country (that) loves the game I love dearly,” Mutombo told Sportsnet.

After spending sometime in Montreal, Mutombo was in Lennoxville, Que., on the campus of Bishop’s University for Air Miles NBA Campus Pass, a pre-season tour by NBA Canada stopping in the most passionate basketball communities in the country.

While in Canada, Mutombo spoke of the differences in the modern-day game than when he played, listed his starting five all-time players from Africa and why he thinks the Raptors honouring Vince Carter is a no-brainer.

SN: It seems like you’re always in Canada. I know you have family in Montreal and Toronto but you must love it here.

Mutombo: Oh yes! As you recall, I was among a group of players that came to Canada to promote the game of basketball when Canada was trying to get their first NBA team. So, I really feel privileged to come back any time I’ve been asked by the NBA to represent for this wonderful institution.

SN: What is the difference you’ve seen in the basketball community here over the years?

Mutombo: I see that our game continues to grow dramatically in Canada. If you see the number of the players playing in Canada and the number of players from Canada in the NBA, both have increased. If you see the number of players being drafted in the top 10 from Canada increases every year, so that shows that the game is becoming so popular. Kids are playing the game and embracing the game the way they are supposed to.

SN: You also are seeing more players coming from your homeland, the continent of Africa. How’s that make you feel?

Mutombo: It feels good to know that we have done a great job. Especially starting with Hakeem Olajuwon, who is my hero. The late Manute Bol and other African players who came early on in the NBA. I think we did represent the league well and we are making sure that we cannot be the last people in the NBA from Africa, that more people would play the game after us. And today when you go back to Africa you see more young people playing the game everywhere. That shows you they really respect what their three brothers who came before them are doing and they want to follow our footsteps.

SN: Who is your starting five from Africa?

Mutombo: Oh man, I put myself at centre. Hakeem Olajuwon is the power forward. I put Serge Ibaka maybe at three. I put Emmanuel Mudiay at one. I think we need to get another shooting guard. We need to get one from the continent!

SN: And I assume that Masai Ujiri is the GM. You guys are close. How do you feel watching him grow the game in Canada?

Mutombo: He’s done a great job. All of us in the NBA family are so proud of him. You have to remember the NBA Canada office has done a great job not just with the Toronto Raptors. With Toronto winning more games and NBA Canada making sure more people can see the games it has become a success. Many people didn’t think the game would grow in Canada like it did.

SN: Masai re-signed a player with some Mutombo skills in Serge Ibaka. What’s your analysis of his game?

Mutombo: I think Serge is doing a really good job playing the four and even the three. That is a job he loves to do. He is a great rebounder, scorer, shot-blocker. He continues to expand his game and surprising so many people. So, we are very proud of that. He’s really representing the flag of Congo.

SN: The big man has become eliminated. How would you fair if you were playing today?

Mutombo: One thing that has changed is the game is a little bit faster compared to when I did play. And you have more shooters (laughs). More people are shooting the ball than ever. The game is played outside. I think if I was playing in the league today I would struggle. Because I would have to guard Kyrie (Irving) and I’d have to guard a guy like Steph (Curry). All those young guys who are shooting the ball from the outside. Back in the day you had Kobe. Kobe didn’t just shoot the ball, Kobe drove to the basket. So, there was a big difference. The young guys today are just lighting the court up.

SN: After the film “The Carter Effect” debuted at TIFF there has been a debate on if the Toronto Raptors should retire Vince Carter’s jersey when he retires.

Mutombo: Of course!

SN: Why?

Mutombo: What Vince Carter was able to do to put the city of Toronto and the Toronto Raptors on the map, (they) definitely the should hang his jersey up. I would vote for that in two seconds!

SN: When I talked to you before you told me Michael Jordan didn’t climb Mt. Mutombo and dunk on you he had to go up the side. What about Vince?

Mutombo: Yeah, he did, he did. I’ll never deny that. He did climb Mount Mutombo a few times. But so many times he was also stopped from getting there. He knows that! Him and his cousin Tracy McGrady, they tried to climb to the top. They had a difficult time. They might have reached the top maybe twice but maybe a thousand times they end up falling down. [laughing]

SN: When Bismack Biyombo was here you said you didn’t give him the license to use the finger wag after blocked shots. Have you given it to Serge now that he is here?

Mutombo: I have gone and given them all a free pass. I don’t have no choice no more. I think they want to represent their brother. They want to represent the continent. They really don’t need my permission no more. A lot of people are using it on TV so it is becoming a great legacy. Even the basketball court people are using it. Can you believe that?

SN: How many times a day do people ask you to wag the finger?

Mutombo: Oh my God. I wish I could remember. Especially going to the airport. People don’t say my name no more. Even last night when I came to McGill, there were three gentlemen in front of me. They didn’t even say hi. They said “Are you the no, no, no guy?” Like I don’t have a name. My name is Dikembe Mutombo. I’m not the no, no, no guy!

SN: You’re in Quebec because you are one of the few NBA legends that speaks French. How many languages do you speak?

Mutombo: Seven. Hopefully I will be speaking Chinese one day as much as I go to China.

SN: You need to get Yao Ming to teach you.

Mutombo: He’s been teaching me. Definitely I’m going to try to learn as much as I can.

I’m really thrilled to be here in Quebec at Bishop’s University at the NBA Campus Pass presented by Air Miles. The fans will get a chance to see me and interact with me and come close. We want our fans to come close to us. We want them to experience what it is like being on the court. Another thing we want them to get close to and be able to see and to feel is the Larry O’Brien championship trophy. That will be something that not many fans get to hold the trophy close to them or take a picture next to the trophy. Maybe they can tell their kids one day.

SN: Bishop’s has a good basketball program. What if one of the Gaiters tries to climb Mount Mutombo?

Mutombo: They’d know better. If I were them I’d say stop it before you get shot down.