He originally intended to become a physician; he arrived at Georgetown on a USAID scholarship. Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson convinced him to play basketball. He became an excellent college center, continuing Georgetown's tradition of producing great big men. Selected 4th overall by the Denver Nuggets, Mutombo's impact was immediate. As a rookie, he was selected for the all-star team by averaging 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, and nearly 3 blocks per game.
A cornerstone in the Nuggets' frontcourt, Dikembe became one of the league's best defensive players, regularly putting up big rebound and block numbers for 5 years with the club while averaging 11 or so points a game. The team lacked other great players to team up with him, however, and at its best won only 42 games in a season. However, in that season, 1993-94, it pulled off a major playoff upset by stunning the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in the first round, the first eighth seed to win an NBA playoff series. Mutombo's defensive presence was key in pulling it off, his 31 blocks is still a record for a 5-game series. The following season, despite being on the all-Defensive second team, he was named Defensive Player of the year (DPotY).
After the 1995-96 season, Mutombo was unable to reach terms with the Nuggets and signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Like a machine, Mutombo continued to put his traditional defensive numbers, but with the Hawks a much better team than his old Denver club, he was more noticeable, and ended up winning 2 more DPotY awards and was a regular member of the all-defensive team. He also became fairly well known for a signature finger waggle which he would point at a player's direction after a blocked shot. During the lock-out shortened 1998-99, he was the NBA's IBM Award winner, a player of the year award determined by a computerized formula.
The Hawks fell from grace afterwards, and Mutombo was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in February 2001. He earned his 4th DPotY award that season and remained as good as he'd been in past years. That season he also earned a trip to the NBA finals, where his Sixers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in 5 games. Following another typical Mutombo year in 2001-02, the Sixers dealt him to the New Jersey Nets, who were looking for a more physical big man to compete with the Western Conference's best at center. Unfortunately, Mutombo spent most of that season with a nagging injury, and it limited him to just 24 games. He was generally unable to play any playoff games for them, typically serving as a 12th man for the Nets' second consecutive Finals run.
In October 2003, the Nets bought out the remainder of his contract and waived him. He signed a two-year deal with the New York Knicks a few days later.
A well-known humanitarian, he started the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve living conditions in his native Zaire, now DR Congo, in 1997. His efforts earned him the NBA's humanitarian award in 2001. In the same year, ground was broken for a hospital in his hometown, the Congolese capital of Kinshasa; when it opens in 2004, it will be the first modern medical facility to be built in that area in nearly 40 years. He personally donated $3.5 million toward the hospital's construction.
Also well-versed, Mutombo is fluent in 9 languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and 5 African dialects. Always a good interview, he was selected to an "All-Interview" team in 2002.