WASHINGTON (AP) — Former pro basketball star Dikembe Mutombo stressed the importance of an education as he was honored Monday with an award for improving lives in his native Congo.
Mutombo said he sold fruit and vegetables for about $1 a day in order to pay his school fees in Congo. He briefly studied medicine at Georgetown University before his basketball talents were discovered. He graduated from the university with dual degrees in linguistics and diplomacy.
His alma mater presented him with the Coach John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award during an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“You never know what direction your life will take you or … what road you will travel, but your chances of success are certainly greater with an education than without one,” Mutombo said as he accepted the award.
Mutombo’s namesake foundation has worked to combat childhood diseases in Congo. It also opened a hospital in Kinshasa, which has served more than 25,000 patients.
President Barack Obama praised Mutombo for giving back to his nation’s people and honoring King’s legacy of service.
Obama said the 18-year NBA veteran was attacking problems in Africa in “with the same ferocity with which he used to block shots in the NBA.”
Mutombo played for six NBA teams, was the league’s top defensive player four times and was selected for eight All-Star games during his career.
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