Dikembe Mutombo is rarely at a loss for words. The notoriously charming and ceaselessly philanthropic big man is one of the biggest personalities the NBA has ever seen. His deep bass voice fills the corners of every room, and his hoarse, halting laugh reaches their ceilings. If Mutombo is around, basically, you’ll know it.
And that was certainly the case on Sept. 1, too, save for one small exception – when yet another announcement in his esteemed honor left the future Hall-of-Famer speechless and smiling.
At a ceremony marking Tuesday, Sept. 1, as “Dikembe Mutombo Day” in Fulton County, Georgia, the former Atlanta Hawks star watched stoically as local leaders sang his estimable praises. It wasn’t until Hawks CEO Steve Koonin made the announcement that Mutombo’s No. 55 jersey would be raised to the Phillips Arena rafters this season that he finally broke character – an inevitable and typically heartwarming reaction to news that took him by complete surprise.
After the proceedings, Mutombo explained his emotions to Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”
Mutombo’s jersey will be retired on Nov. 24 during a game against the Boston Celtics on TNT. That honor comes more than two months after an even bigger one – his enshrinement to the Basketball Hall-of-Fame on Sept. 10.
And needless to say, if you’re taken with the genuine joy Mutombo shows here, both ceremonies will be absolutely must-watch programming.