Dikembe Mutombo, one of the best defenders in the history of the NBA, in which he played two finals with the Sixers and the Nets, is 56 years old with a brain tumor, announced Saturday the North American basketball league.
"NBA Global Ambassador and Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo is currently undergoing treatment for a brain tumor," the league statement said, noting that he is "receiving the best possible care from a team of specialists in Atlanta."
"Dikembe, as well as his family, ask to respect his privacy during this period, so he can focus on his care," the NBA concludes.
His boss Adam Silver was quick to send a message of support - "All our thoughts and prayers go out to Dikembe, one of the great humanitarians of our world" - to the man who is involved in many charitable actions.
A four-time league-leading defender in 1995, 1997, 1998, and 2001 (a record he shares with former Pistons Ben Wallace), Mutombo was one of the most deterrent players the NBA has ever seen.
Born in Kinshasa in 1966, he mastered the art of the counter-attack like few others and even made it his signature, with the "Mutombo Finger Wag", the way he waved his finger from left to right in front of the opponent when he had just made one, to tell him "not in my house".
With 3,289 blocks, he is the second-best counter-attacker in history, behind the legendary Hakeem Olajuwon.
With the Nigerian, they were the first two African representatives to win the best championship in the world, paving the way for other talents, from Sudanese Luol Dieng to Cameroonian (since naturalized French and American) Joel Embiid.
A two-time All-Star Game selection and top rebounder in the 1999/2000 and 2000/2001 regular seasons, Mutombo began his career in Denver, which drafted him 4th overall in 1991. In 1996, he moved to Atlanta, before joining Philadelphia in 2000.
Nine months later, alongside star Allen Iverson, he played in his first NBA finals, eventually losing to the Lakers of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. The second in 2003 will also be a failure, under the jersey of the New Jersey Nets this time, still against Los Angeles.
After a season in New York, which began his decline, he finished his career in Houston in 2009, during which he compiled 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.8 contests on average.
Emotions quickly ran high in the NBA microcosm after his illness was announced.
"Please keep Dikembe and the Mutombo family in your prayers," tweeted former Knicks icon Patrick Ewing, with whom they delivered fierce jousts in the 1990s.