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NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo talks to 3News' Jim Donovan about work with SPIRE Institute, All-Star Game in Cleveland

The prolific shot-blocker, who plans to be at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse next month, also touched on his humanitarianism and his connection to J.B. Bickerstaff.

CLEVELAND — 3News' Jim Donovan had a real thrill the other day to be able to sit down and talk to Dikembe Mutombo, the great shot-blocker in the NBA and a Basketball Hall of Famer.

Mutombo has recently been in Northeast Ohio due to his involvement with the SPIRE Institute and Academy in Geneva as an investor and advisor. He has traveled the world, but says he has never seen anything like the facility and its support staff.

"There is no place like at SPIRE around the world," Mutombo said. "I've been working for the NBA for the last 12-13 years, I've traveled around the world for the last 30-some-plus years since I've stopped playing in the NBA, and I have not come close to something [as] beautiful, significant, [and] creative like at SPIRE."

Besides his exploits on the court, Mutombo has also been lauded for his humanitarian work, including building a hospital near his Congolese hometown. The building is even named after his late mother, and he cited both of his parents as influences for his activism.

"They wanted to make sure [me and my siblings] don't look at the world where we care only about us and our family," he recalled. "That we care about the people who live around us, and the people who live far away from us.

Here in Cleveland, the talk of the town has been the Cavaliers, who are off to a surprisingly good start under head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Mutombo has a special connection to Bickerstaff's father, Bernie, who was Mutombo's coach and general manager when he played for the Denver Nuggets.

"Mr. Bickerstaff was the only man in this world that did believe in me when I was coming out from college," Mutombo said. "That was the only man who saw my talent, who put his hand [up] and said, 'Listen, we are getting Dikembe Mutombo from Georgetown. We are not going after nobody else.'"

Credit: Gary Stewart/AP
A stunned Denver Nuggets' Dikembe Mutombo leaves the floor Saturday, May 7, 1994, in Seattle after the Nuggets upset the Seattle SuperSonics 98-94 to take the best-of five series 3-2.

The 2022 NBA All-Star game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is also fast-approaching. Mutombo was lucky enough to play in Cleveland the last time the event was held here in 1997, and remembers the legend's of the league's 50th anniversary team descending upon what was then Gund Arena.

"I'm so happy with the city of Cleveland for opening their doors to all of the visitors that [will] be coming and to all of the NBA stars and former stars and legends that [will] be descending in town," Mutombo, who had eight rebounds and a block in the game itself 25 years ago, said of this year's occasion. "There will be more than a million people downtown. I don't know how they're going to handle that, but we're all part of the NBA family. I'm so excited to go to Cleveland and to enjoy this beautiful weekend."

During his stellar career, Mutombo became known for his signature "finger wag" after blocking shots. The iconic image has become part of American pop culture, and even Mutombo himself is astonished by how it caught on.

"It's amazing," he admitted. "After paying so many fines to the NBA during my career because I was just waving this finger and the ref would give me a technical foul, and today that finger is becoming one of the legendary things that maybe kids can do now."