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Mutombo bids farewell after 18 seasons

DIKEMBE Mutombo has gotten over the sadness of the end of his playing career. He'll take some time before deciding what he wants to do next.

The 42-year-old Mutombo said he was retired from basketball after rupturing a quadriceps tendon in his left knee early in Houston's 107-103 loss to Portland in their NBA playoff series on Tuesday.

The 7-foot-2 (2.19-meter) Mutombo will have surgery on Monday. He limped around the Toyota Center on a crutch yesterday but stayed upbeat as he chatted with reporters.

"I've been in a positive mode for the last couple of days," Mutombo said. "Maybe I think I cried enough when I was on the floor. I cried again when I got in the training room and when the doctor tried to talk to me. But right now, I think I have to be happy."

Mutombo played for six NBA teams, was the league's top defensive player four times and played in eight All-Star games over 18 seasons. He ranks 17th in rebounds (12,359) and finished with 3,289 career blocks, second to Hakeem Olajuwon (3,830). The Congolese star followed most of his blocks with a playful wag of his right index finger, a gesture that became his enduring signature.

"I had a wonderful, wonderful ride," he said.

Mutombo said he would talk with his wife, Rose, and six children before deciding what he might do now. He's been active for years in humanitarian efforts, most of them benefiting causes in Africa. He was recognized in former US President George W. Bush's 2007 State of the Union address and was invited to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration in January.

Earlier yesterday, the NBA announced that Mutombo was the recipient of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given for "outstanding service and dedication to the community." He's the first two-time winner of the award.

"This is a great day," he said. "Despite the bad news for myself, and what's going on with my knee, it is a good day to learn I have received another award, just to get another to my great collection. I'm just happy. I'm going to be all right."

Mutombo's most personal project is the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, which opened in December 2007, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mutombo donated $19 million and set up a foundation to raise money for the hospital, named after his late mother.

He laughed off a question about whether he'd go to work for NBA commissioner David Stern, but wouldn't reveal any career paths he might have in mind.

"When the season is over, when everything is over, then I will have the time to reflect on myself and take time with my wife and kids," Mutombo said. "Then we will decide what the next chapter of life will be like. But right now, we still have basketball."

Mutombo had pondered retirement after last season, then re-signed with the Rockets on Dec. 31, seeing one last opportunity to win an NBA championship. He played in only nine games in the regular season, but continued to be a valuable role model for Houston's younger players, particularly Yao Ming.

"A great person, not just on the court, but also off the court," Yao said. "He always took care of people. People know about his charities back in Africa. In the locker room, he always teaches the young guys to do the right thing."

Mutombo said the only regret of his long career was how it ended. He went down after tangling legs with Portland center Greg Oden and was taken away on a stretcher.

He had always envisioned walking proudly off the court in his final game.

"We don't have control of our destiny, we don't," he said. "You might be happy all day long and then you're walking along and you fall. If it was your time to go, you've got to go.

"I watched the replay and thought, 'How did it happen?'. But you have to accept the injury and you have to move on. I'm ready to move on."


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