Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo and Nathaniel Cornelius Robinson, two former Knicks, were so opposite in so many ways. Mutombo stood 19 inches taller than Nate. The former was an eight-time All-Star and a Hall of Famer; the latter won three Slam Dunk contests and after retirement was knocked out in a boxing match by a Vine/Disney star. Mutombo was a historically dominant defensive player whose offense was like watching gears grinding. Robinson was a generational athlete whose strength (never accepting his limitations) doubled as his fatal flaw. Both played for the Knicks in the mid-2000s, when the franchise fell from grace to grimness.
Yet both were also beloved by fans, more than the average bear. Mutombo, with his Cookie Monster voice and easy smile, was popular enough to create a gesture that is still seen in basketball and beyond. In the wrong hand, a finger wave at a rejected opponent could bring beef; in Mutombo’s large hands, it was a crowd-pleaser. Nate was the rare Knick who could be given a month-long demotion from active duty, 100% deserve that demotion, then return with an astonishing 41-point explosion in his first game back, leading the Knicks to a comeback win. They share another commonality, one we hope yields a happy recap.
Mutombo, 56, is currently being treated for a brain tumor, while Robinson, still just 38, revealed a four-year struggle with renal kidney failure. Both are receiving treatment, though there’s no word of their prognoses. Obviously their health is their business and not ours, but these are public figures millions of people connect via. We don’t need to know them to care, to root for their recoveries.
Mutombo was the rare player whose shooting touch was a war crime but who was so good at everything else he was a pleasure to watch in action. That’s what I remember the most about his one year as a Knick: gratitude for getting to see an eventual Hall of Famer ply his trade with my team, even if he was past his prime, similar to Jason Kidd later on. Nate was the rare player who drove me absolutely bonkers but who was hard to stay mad at. He was, in that sense, spiritually descended from John Starks and a forefather to J.R. Smith.
If you offer people up when they’re down, please do so for Mutombo and Robinson. How do you remember them? Share, loves.