Breakfast and Finger-Wagging at the Ritz-Carlton
Holy Shit, I Met Dikembe Mutombo
It all started with a rogue Wednesday afternoon email. I was posted up in The Link office, probably annoying the crap out of my fellow editors.
I didn’t see this coming.
The email seemed like spam at first so I kind of just ignored it. Then by accident, my finger slipped onto it and I could not believe what it read.
NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo was in Quebec for some sort of NBA promotional event for Air Miles at Bishop’s University, of all places. Before heading out to Lennoxville, he was going to have one measly hour of media availability at The Ritz-Carlton in Montreal, where multi-millionaires like him tend to stay.
Reading the email only confirmed my suspicion of this being spam; why the hell would they be emailing me to ask if I wanted to interview an international celebrity? And why would they send it to me less than 12 hours before his media availability? I figured that the sports online editors before me had such good connections that I may as well take advantage of bonds I did not form.
Anyways, I reluctantly answered the message saying that I was interested. Emails about interviewing NBA Hall of Famers don’t come along everyday. If the email contained a virus that was going to tear The Link’s computer network to shreds, changing my name and moving to a different country is always an option, right?
It didn’t take them long to respond. They had slotted me in for a ten to 12 minute interview with Mutombo at 10:15 a.m. the next morning. I lost my fucking mind. Dikembe Mutombo! One of the greatest defensive players in NBA history and owner of the coolest voice of all time! Of lesser import, I was trying to make sure I had nothing scheduled for the next morning and asking myself if it was ok to skip my 10:15 a.m. class.
This was my Big Chance. I had to.
I had to be up very early the next morning to help our editor-in-chief Kelsey Litwin and our co-news editor Franca Mignacca do some interviews over at McGill. I got up in time, and got to the athletics complex pretty early but I had never been to the specific part of the sports complex I needed to be and there was very little indication of how to find it.
To make matters way worse, I was out of data. As a millennial, that’s essentially another way of saying “unreachable.” I was sweaty as fuck and I was only going to get sweatier from there.
“Yo, Kelsey! I’m here!” I said.
“Duuuuude, what the fuck!” she responded, as I ran towards the building, hyperventilating. I was excessively late.
Surprisingly, the interviews at McGill went smoothly. Now it was time to go meet Dikembe. This was my Big Chance.
I get to The Ritz-Carlton smelling bad and wearing a baggy Texas Longhorns sweater. I don’t even like the Longhorns. I’ll never look as professional as I did in that moment.
I enter the front lobby and ask the front desk clerk where Dikembe was. She told me to go to the third floor, he’d be waiting for me in “Hosmer Hall.”
“Holy shit. This is happening,” I thought as I connected to the Ritz-Carlton’s Wi-Fi and saw the like 15 angry “where are you?” messages I had missed from before.
I was early and had to wait a while before being ushered into the tiny conference room for the interview. I then found out that Dikembe hadn’t eaten his breakfast and was hungry. The NBA media representative explained to me that this would delay things a bit. “Fine,” I said.
I was not fine. I also happened to be wearing a stinky Sesame Street shirt underneath my sweater and I was afraid that he wouldn’t take me seriously if I walked in wearing that. I decided to keep my sweater on.
I backed myself into a hell of a corner. But I’d rather stink than be unfashionable so that’s the choice I made.
After a pair of reporters from La Presse had their time with him, they called me in. Finally, it was my Big Chance. This is how it went:
This interview has been edited for clarity
The Link: So, Dikembe, thank you for doing this and for having this media availability with us. So, obviously, you’re an ambassador to basketball.”
Dikembe Mutombo: Global! Global ambassador to basketball. We have so many ambassadors for the game, but we only have one global ambassador.
TL: And that would be you.
TL: So you’re a global ambassador for the NBA, and have been for a while now. How did that come about and why were you the candidate for that?
DM: Back in 2008, just as I was trying to decide to retire, I was asked by the commissioner David Stern if [I was] willing to serve as an NBA global ambassador. To represent this wonderful institution around the globe. I thought that this was amazing, entertaining and I thought this was a great opportunity for me. So I took a chance to accept this responsibility and I knew how [loaded the job was] with all the travelling and being away from the wife and the kids but it’s a job, and I enjoy.
TL: I was going to ask if this something you particularly enjoyed doing a lot of. This is something that takes you all around the world. If I’m not mistaken the NBA Africa event that was this summer, you were there…
DM: Yes, am I’m leaving, going to China next week. It’s a great job, it allows you to meet different dignitaries, ambassadors, ministers, kings, princesses, presidents. I don’t think in my lifetime if I had any other job I would have the opportunity to interact with so many on the political and sport level, and exchange phone numbers and emails. It has been great!
TL: Throughout your career you probably did get to come here to Canada a couple times…
DM: Yes, a lot! I have family here in Canada. [Incomprehensible]. My brother-in-law lives here, my sisters, nephew and nieces all live in Toronto. I have a bunch of nieces and nephews and three brothers-in-law that live in Ottawa, which is almost like an hour away. A bunch of my cousins from my dad’s side they all live in Quebec City. There are a lot of family members here in Canada, I’m home! I feel at home!
TL: Recently there has been a rise in NBA talent that has come from this country, what do you think of that and what would you attribute that to?
DM: You mean in Canada?
DM: Oh, we’re very pleased with the result we have seen in Canada when it comes to the game of Basketball. Our game is growing dramatically. We thank all of the Canadian fans who are following us everyday. Who are blessing our game, who are taking part [in] our game. On the court and off the court, by picking the ball up and shooting, we see all of those great gifts of talent coming. The game is getting very, very popular in Canada, a lot of that has got to do with the Toronto Raptors. The NBA office in Canada is doing a great job, we have a wonderful team here boosting our fans, it’s great.
TL: You do a lot of humanitarian work, too, and that is something you had done while you were still an NBA player. You’ve opened hospitals, you have a foundation that you’re very active in. Is that something that you hope to continue to always do, and what does that sort of mean to you, personally?
DM: My foundation is there for life! The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation is there for life. I want to give something back to the society. I feel that it is very important for every human being who got to be successful to give something back, to the community…to the world we are living in, to make a difference. There was a great quote from one of the great doctors from Botswana who expressed that when there is a problem affecting one part of the society, it should be a responsibility of every human being living on this planet. I believe that the world is facing so much challenges right now; not just with the hurricane, we see a tsunami, we see the earthquake in Mexico, we see a famine in Africa, we see the pandemic of different diseases like Ebola, like last year in Sierra Leone and Liberia. We see fighting taking place in Southern Sudan, in the east of Congo and all those places, and Libya, where women and children are being displaced. It’s our responsibility as human beings to try to see what can we do, how can we help those who have been displaced, those who are suffering? And what can we bring to them? People in Houston who are just crying for clean water, and Florida.
It’s the responsibility of human beings, even giving just some water. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of money just to take your action and to volunteer. That’s my passion and I believe that the NBA family, we have embraced that with our initiative. The commissioner said the “NBA cares,” and we are doing it very well.
Somewhere towards the end of that quote, my laptop screen went dark and Dikembe extended his very long and very famous finger to touch my touchpad and wake the screen back up. He used that hand to become the second most prolific shot blocker in NBA history. My touchpad is now royalty.
After chatting about his collegiate career playing for the Georgetown University Hoyas, I asked him about their biggest enemies; the Syracuse Orange. I had former The Link editor Julian McKenzie, who completed a Master’s degree at Syracuse and is a big fan of theirs, in mind when asking this question.
TL: So, what’s your thoughts on Syracuse?
His entire demeanour changed.
DM: Syracuse? Oh God! Oh, let me pull myself together!
He reclined back into his seat.
That’s the last school and the last institution that someone would put their name in my face! Oh, no no. I just don’t like them, man. I think, we don’t like each other. We’re a rivalry, and we love to compete and beat each other. If there’s two knives on the table I think both the Orange and the Hoyas would pick up those knives and fight each other and kill each other.
He then let out one of his signature laughs. I thought he was about to kick me out for asking about Syracuse.
TL: Who in the NBA right now reminds you of you, and who do you think is the best defensive, at least big man, in the game right now?
DM: I think there’s a lot of people who are trying to be like me, who are trying to block a shot like me, but….nobody has the skill to go “no no no, not today!”
DM: Because it takes a lot of courage, you know? To come everyday and try to dominate, chasing people on the court. I’ll make sure they get that finger in their face! [Incomprehensible] I think there are a lot of great talents who are developing in the NBA. I’m very pleased with the way our young people are playing. You have Joel Embiid in Philadelphia, he’s developing very well. I admire his skill, I admire his game. I always say that I think he’s a little bit better than me when I was that age. The kid has just been lucky and fortunate enough to play even 40 games in a season.
He spoke to me for a bit about current NBA players that he’s scared might break his shot blocking records. Then, I had one last question for him.
TL: You also played at a time where there was a lot of talent coming out of Africa, and there is a lot of talent continuously coming out of Africa. You played around the same time as Manute Bol, Hakeem Olajuwon. Is that something that you hope to see continue and is that something that through your humanitarian work you hope to bring basketball to Africa?
DM: I am fully committed to the growth of the game in the continent. I’m fully committed to seeing this game growing and expanding. Whatever it will take of us to the commissioner for our game to be successful, I’m more than willing to being there. I want to be there today, I want to be there tomorrow, I want to be there in the future to make sure that our young people get a chance to see a real legend like me talking to them about this great game. For us, it’s just to make sure that there’s more young Dikembe Mutombo’s coming out of the continent that get a chance to play in the NBA, and I want to see it as long as I’m still walking.
I then made the very unprofessional decision to ask the NBA media representative to take a picture of Mutombo and I immediately put it on Instagram with the caption “holy hell, this just happened.” I tagged him in it and he liked the picture. I couldn’t believe it.
As I was listening to the recorded interview, I realized that all of my questions were completely random and were asked with no potential story in mind. Essentially, I was asking questions as a fan who loved Dikembe Mutombo, not a journalist. One of my questions was literally “can I film you doing the finger-wag for my Snapchat followers?”
I had blown my Big Chance, but I don’t regret a damn thing.
GIFs prepared by Harrison-Milo Rahajason.
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