NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo and Canadian-Israeli philanthropist Sylvan Adams celebrated the opening on Tuesday of the Sylvan Adams Sports Center at the Jerusalem YMCA, the largest facility of its kind in the Middle East, made possible by the Montreal-born philanthropist who moved to Tel Aviv in 2016.
Adams completed the center after construction of the complex was halted by a lack of funding for nearly a decade.
“I am extremely proud and frankly a little humbled to be involved in this 140-year-old iconic institution. For me, this is the most important YMCA in the world,” said Adams of Jerusalem’s historic YMCA, located on King David Street, which is one of the few places in the capital where both Arabs and Jews feel equally at home.
“It’s a very special place given that Jerusalem, our beautiful city of Jerusalem, is home to the three Abrahamic religions and people come from all walks of life here. They come from all religions, all levels of religious observance, and here everyone workouts and plays together.”
In a related development, on Tuesday, Mutombo - the Congolese American retired basketball star today well known for his humanitarian work – launched the Jr. NBA’s youth basketball program for boys and girls ages 6-14 in Jerusalem. According to data released by the NBA - the program, which teaches the sport’s fundamental skills and core values of the game at the grassroots level, has reached more than 26 million youth in 71 countries through a variety of camps, clinics, skills challenges, league play and outreach events.
Fifty children from across the country participated in the basketball clinic facilitated by Mutombo and other volunteer NBA coaches.
“This is my first time in Israel, and it certainly won’t be my last,” Mutombo told The Jerusalem Post
. “I am going to bring my children. Today I visited the [Yad Vashem] Holocaust Museum. I thought I knew the complete history until I walked into the museum, and then I felt like I didn’t know enough.”
“You’d be amazed at how many countries I’ve visited in my life over the last 20 years,” said Mutombo, who represents the NBA as its global ambassador.
Adams, himself a competitive cyclist, became interested in the Jr. NBA program through his friend Larry Tannenbaum, who owns Toronto Raptors. Tanenbaum and a group of NBA franchise owners visited Israel in 2017, and decided to launch the Jr. NBA basketball clinic as a way to promote understanding among Jewish and Arab Israeli youth.
“Israel is a very important market for us; basketball-wise. We believe that this is the one place that we had to come to in order to establish ourselves very well,” Mutombo said. “Basketball is very popular in Israel
, especially here in the Jerusalem area. We’ve been to more than 100 plus countries, spread over six continents, and one of the [few] countries that we have not come to but were focused on was Israel.”
“We are so happy that we have the chance to bring this beautiful program to our Israeli youths,” he continued. “In the NBA, we call them ‘our youths’ because basketball is a global game, and it doesn’t matter where you are from, but are you capable to play our game.”
Mutombo garnered numerous NBA records in a career from 1991 to 2009 playing for the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. An eight-time all-star and four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year seen as one of the best defensive players to hit the court, in 2015 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Léopoldville, DR Congo-born star’s humanitarian work has been equally impressive, including buiding the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mutombo tipped his hat to fellow hoopster Hakeem Olajuwon.
“Hakeem was one of the most difficult players I have ever guarded and was one of the toughest struggles of my career,” said Mutombo, “His game was way above what everyone was accepting at the time. However, the rest of the guys I think I did okay with,” he said with a smile on his face.
Mutombo enrolled at Georgetown University in Washington, DC in 1988. His plans to become a doctor or a scientist were put aside in his sophomore year when the 2.18 m-tall giant joined the Hoyas’ basketball squad.
“I think it was a good decision for me, but not for my father, because my Dad and I always talked about me becoming a scientist since I was about 9 years old,” he said. “My dad would sit in the living room and ask each one of us what we wanted to become in life. I didn’t tell him that I was quitting my dream of becoming a doctor and that I joined the basketball team and changed my [major] to political science; until he got to my graduation and wondered why I was not graduating from the correct school.”
During the program at Jerusalem’s YMCA, Mutombo spoke to the children about the importance of education. “One day this basketball is going to stop bouncing. And when it does and you can’t play anymore, you need to make sure you have the education to fall back on,” he told the young participants.
Mutombo is remembered for the iconic moment during the 1994 playoffs, when after defeating the Seattle Supersonics, he screamed with joy and disbelief while laid out on the floor of the court cradling the basketball, refusing to let go.
“That was the joy of the game,” he said. “We didn’t just beat them. We knocked them down.”
Mutombo brings that same intensity with him in his current role as the NBA’s global ambassador, incorporating lessons he mastered on the basketball court to promote humanitarian efforts.
“In life you are supposed to set goal after goal. If you achieve your first goal, then you need to move to the next one. Life is full of challenges and you have to challenge yourself and to make yourself great.
“The most important thing in life is to enjoy life... My family and I built a hospital... and it is one of the greatest gifts I can give to humanity. The conclusion is that every day we see people come to the hospital, and because of that they can all get up the next day and live,” Mutombo said explaining his philosophy. “Some of them come knowing that they are going to live the rest of their lives in the condition they came in with. So by you being happy, standing on your feet moving, not being sick – ought to be a joy in your life.
“I have been blessed in so many ways. I have so many beautiful friends who love me and are supportive of me, as well as the gift of a beautiful family and a beautiful wife and kids.
“Now I want to build a school next year, which is my next goal in life.”
“I believe in the Olympics, and I believe in passing the torch. I think, okay, if the hospital is doing fine, it is running by themselves, I say okay, now I can move on to helping a new generation of young people who come into this world and give them a better education, and teach them what was taught to me by my father and my mother,” he concluded.
The question Mutombo would like to ask Post readers is, “Who will you pass your torch down to?”
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