When it was announced that the Hawks were going to tear down their imaginary, deeply prohibitive, never focused boundaries around retiring awesome players' jerseys, I was super-stoked that it was Dikembe Mutombo that was the first to be honored.
I wrote about it at the time and had a list of reasons why I thought it was appropriate.
- Mutombo, by my own measures, admittedly, came in at #4 in the Greatest of All-Time Atlanta Hawks list I did in 2010. He came in only behind Dominique, John Drew and the late Dan Roundfield. Nobody else added more, in a minimum 300 games, than did Mutombo. So his short stint (5 years) can't be held against him in this context.
- He was the last major free agent to choose Atlanta as a destination and launched that fairly modest post-Nique edition, with Mookie Blaylock (#6 all-time Hawk) and Steve Smith (#9) to the highest heights they could reach.
- He was dominant defensively and was a league leader in rebounds and blocks, despite the pedestrian pace that Lenny Wilkens had the team play.
- He is the GOAT Atlanta Hawk in all of his off-the-court endeavors, a philanthropy leader that the Hawks surely want to include in this recognition.
- His iconic, finger-wagging was the ultimate taunt, so much so that the league outlawed it. Think about that. With all the profane, personal trash that gets levied on the court, the league felt the need to outlaw Mutombo's finger wag. I loved it and still use it to this day.
- His #55 likely wouldn't have been used again anyway, unless they turned me loose on a 10-day contract, where I would most assuredly swat an inbounds pass and immediately launch into a 10 minute finger wag, consequences be danged.
Any time I see the Hugging Hawk uniform, predominant in the time that Mutombo was there, I think of Deke. He was a life-altering force in the middle of the lane, something that went underappreciated and was highlighted when another decent fellow with similar capabilities never could make the same impact when he came to Atlanta (Theo Ratliff).
He was a rebounding animal, the likes of which have not been seen again since his trade to the Sixers at the turn of the century. Here is a list of names for the Atlanta Hawks over the last 20 years who have had a Defensive Rebounding Rate of 25% or higher for any season over that period.
Dikembe Mutombo (4 times)
Ok, here's the list going back to 1970:
Dikembe Mutombo (4 times)
Kevin Willis (2 times)
That's it folks. Do your own search and you'll find other franchises, old and new, that have a longer list, but the Hawks have Mutombo and Willis and that's it.
He was important. He was a rock in the middle. Yes, his hook shot move was....awkward, but his abilities on the court, while different, were elite.
His off the court philanthropic activities are as legendary as the on-court finger wagging and Cookie Monster laugh. He is exactly the type of guy you want to celebrate being a part of your franchise and I'm glad that every person that goes into that arena knows he was a part of it, too.
Thanks, Deke -- see you in the rafters.