Just Imagine…Lifting Lives

June 15, 2023

Dikembe Mutombo, by Vinod Divakaran, CC BY 2.0

Dikembe Mutombo was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1966. His original career plan was to become a doctor, but his family encouraged him to explore a career in basketball due to his height. He eventually grew to be 7’2″.

When Dikembe came to America at age 21, he enrolled at Georgetown University to study medicine. Again, his height changed his career plans. Coach John Thompson recruited him to play for the Georgetown basketball team. He spoke very little English when he came to America, but quickly picked up the language skills he needed. Today he speaks nine languages.

While Dikembe was an outstanding basketball player at Georgetown, what he did in his summers was even more impressive. Rather than spending his time in the gym, he was an intern for the U.S. Congress and the World Bank. He graduated with degrees in linguistics and diplomacy.

Dikembe had a remarkable 18-year career in the NBA. He was an NBA All-Star 18 times and is in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

While Dikembe had a distinguished basketball career, his career after basketball has been even more impressive. He has become a force for humanitarian efforts. Included among his many humanitarian achievements are:

  • Building the 300-bed Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital near his hometown of Kinshasa, the Congolese capital
  • Funding the construction of the Samuel Mutombo Institute of Science & Entrepreneurship elementary school in his homeland
  • Continuing support for Special Olympics 
  • Supporting Basketball Without Borders throughout Africa
  • Leading a campaign for the reduction of polio worldwide
  • Supporting visually impaired children in Washington, D.C.
  • Serving as a trustee of the National Constitution Center dedicated to the U.S. Constitution
  • Working with the U.S. State Department to support individuals with disabilities in South Sudan
  • Founding of a coffee company to encourage women growers in the Congo


In 1999 Dikembe received a President’s Service Award, our nation’s highest honor for service. He was also a special guest of President George W. Bush in his 2007 State of the Union address.


Just imagine how an individual with God-given stature can use the talent that comes with that stature to lift the lives of others. Just imagine how those efforts can serve as a role model for all of us to use our talents and resources to lift the lives of others.

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“When you take the elevator to the top, please remember to send it back down so someone else might use it.”  – Dikembe Mutombo

This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.


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