It's been 20 years since Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques entered a regular season game sporting a Denver Nuggets jersey, but his presence is still felt throughout Mile High basketball fans. This presence got the recognition it deserves Saturday night at the Pepsi Center for Dikembe Mutombo night. Nuggets fans gathered to honor the franchise leader in blocks(1486), rebounds per game(12.3), and defensive win shares(25.7), who's also third in total rebounding. No matter how you look at it Mutombo was huge for the Nuggets organization and deserves every bit of respect he got Saturday when the Trailblazers came into Colorado.
Perhaps the greatest part of The Mutombo legacy in Denver was their comeback win against The Seattle Supersonics during the 1994 NBA playoffs. During an awkward year in the NBA following Michael Jordan's retirement, every team in the league picked up their slack for a chance to finally win an NBA title. The young Nuggets barely scraped into the playoffs with a 42-40 record going up against George Karl's #1 seeded 63-19 Seattle Supersonics. Things did not start well for Denver as they lost game 1 106-82 and then dropped game 2 97-87. Behind Mount Mutombo's huge performance of 12.3points/14.7rebounds/7.3blocks in the next 3 games, The Nuggets were able to rally back and beat the Supersonics in the next 3 games to pull off the NBA's first ever 8th seed upset. One of the most iconic images in NBA history is the smile on Mutombo's face holding the ball underneath the Supersonics hoop; In a Nuggets jersey.
In Denver, Dikembe grabbed two NBA All-star appearances(1992, 1995), NBA defensive player of the year (1995), All-NBA Defensive second team (1995), and three-time NBA blocks leader (1994-1996) while playing for the Nuggets from being drafted 4th overall in 1991 to 1996. Accomplishments like these are plenty to justify Mutombo's number retirement in Denver. He finished his career with eight total NBA All-star appearances and three more NBA Defensive player of the year awards, among others. Dikembe did play for five other franchises including Philadelphia and Atlanta, but he still seems to hold Denver close to his heart. The NBA held their first game in Africa last Summer and invited African natives Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon to join the game briefly. Mutombo chose to wear his classic Nuggets rainbow jersey, out of all the choices he had. Coach Malone took notice, and when he was asked if he thinks of Mutombo as a Nugget or not, Coach responded: “When they played the game in Africa last year, and Mutombo and Olajuwon checked into the game, Mutombo was wearing a Denver Jersey”.
The retirement ceremony at the Pepsi Center was unforgettable. After being introduced to the audience at halftime, Mutombo stepped onto the Mile High court, once again towering over everyone on the court. The 7 foot 2 behemoth was accompanied by owner Josh Kronke, ex-coach Dan Issel, other members of the Nuggets front office, and his entire family for the ceremony. When he grabbed the microphone, he delivered a heartfelt speech thanking the Nuggets fans, The Nuggets franchise, The City of Denver, and The State of Colorado. Subsequently, Mutombo's number 55 became the 5th Nugget to have his number retired, after Alex English, David Thompson, Byron Beck, and Dan Issel.
The Nuggets did plenty to thank Mutombo, all that was left was for The City of Denver to thank him. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper officially declared October 29th to be Dikembe Mutombo Day in Colorado. In a state mostly thought of as Bronco Nation, we decided to take a day to remember one of the city's greatest basketball players.
I never watched Mutombo play in a Nuggets jersey, he left the team before I was half a year old. Despite this, I did mention you can still feel his presence at that basketball stadium downtown. What he did for Nuggets Nation is one thing no true Nuggets fan could ever forget.
Thank you, Dikembe Mutombo