Mutombo thinks he deserves HOF nod


Mutombo thinks he deserves HOF nod

HOUSTON -- Dikembe Mutombo thinks he deserves induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The 7-foot-2 Mutombo will be eligible beginning in 2015 after his retirement following the 2008-09 season. He ranks second on the NBA's career blocked shots list (3,256), behind only Hakeem Olajuwon (3,830) and he says surpassing every player but Olajuwon on that list should alone merit inclusion into the Hall. Mutombo was also a four-time defensive player of the year, an eight-time All-Star and twice the league's top rebounder (2000-01).

"If you can see my name just below one of the great basketball players to ever play for this league," he said Wednesday, "for me to come this close to breaking his record, I don't see why I cannot be on the same bus with him. That's how I look at it."

On Wednesday, Mutombo joined a group of former NBA and current WNBA players visiting the Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, part of the league's NBA Cares initiative. The event kicked off the NBA's All-Star festivities in Houston this weekend.

Mutombo played for the Rockets from 2004-09, and he swung by the Toyota Center this week, catching an admiring glimpse of the statue out front honoring Olajuwon. Mutombo also played for Denver (1991-96), Atlanta (1996-2001), Philadelphia (2000-02), New Jersey (2002) and New York (2003-04).

But he feels his closest bond to the Rockets and owner Leslie Alexander, who offered financial as well as organizational support for Mutombo's personal crusade to build a hospital in his native Congo. Mutombo started his foundation in 1997 with a personal $19 million donation to benefit the people of his homeland. In 2007, he opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center there, named after his mother.

"At the end of my journey, I see myself as a Rocket," he said. "That's where I ended my career, and also the organization that did so much for me. They knew I had a vision and I went to work for the owner, who's a man who believes in philanthropy and believed in me as a player."

Mutombo says his hospital has become one of the best in Africa, with 185 beds and state-of-the-art equipment. He says it's treated patients from nine different countries on the continent and he's close to securing an agreement under which U.S. diplomats could receive medical care there.

"We're very pleased with this dream," he said. "Sometimes, I sit down and I cannot believe that it is a reality -- that a young man like me was able to build a hospital in the continent that is going through so much, and a country that is going through a civil war. Somehow, the hospital survives."

Mutombo was recognized in former President George W. Bush's 2007 State of the Union address and he's also the only two-time winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given for "outstanding service and dedication to the community."

While he thinks he has the credentials to earn Hall of Fame induction as a player, Mutombo acknowledges that he'd like to gain entry to offer inspiration to underprivileged children in Africa.

"It would mean a lot for the many generations coming from Africa," he said. "More African children would say that, one of us did it, we can do it, we cannot hold ourselves back because of the poverty of the place where we grew up, the trouble that's surrounding our community. When the opportunity is presented to us, we have to seize it. That happened to me."

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Sixers teased in preseason finale with Jahlil Okafor back, Nerlens Noel out

Sixers teased in preseason finale with Jahlil Okafor back, Nerlens Noel out


MIAMI — Jahlil Okafor called it a “tease.”

He was talking about his oh-so-brief 2016-2017 debut, but he could have also been summarizing the Sixers' constant state of taking one step forward and one (injured) leg back.

Okafor, a 6-11 center and the NBA’s third overall pick in the 2015 draft, played 7:32 minutes on Friday and produced four points, one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover. He had been held out in camp previously because of knee soreness.

His return was the good news for the Sixers.

But, before Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat even started (see Instant Replay), the Sixers announced that center/forward Nerlens Noel will have a “minor surgical procedure in the coming days,” (see story).

Sixers center Joel Embiid, who has missed the past two years because of foot surgeries, said he empathizes with Noel.

“It’s hard,” Embiid said. “Obviously we need Nerlens if we want to win. But that’s basketball. Things happen. You can’t control injuries.

“I feel bad for him because this is the beginning of the season. Everybody wants to play the beginning of the season. But I’m sure he is going to work hard to come back even stronger.”

On the positive side for the Sixers, there was the return of Okafor … even it felt like baby steps for him.

“I started to feel really good,” said Okafor, who had surgery on his right knee in March and experienced soreness on that same knee Sept. 30. “It was kind of like a tease to me because I really got going. I wanted to continue to play, but that’s why I have the medical staff to keep me disciplined.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said before the game that he would keep Okafor to just six to eight minutes, and he was true to his word.

Okafor, who made the only shot he attempted from the floor and was 2 for 4 on free throws, did not play in the second half.

“The scoring piece to my game, that’s like riding a bicycle,” Okafor said. “I know I can score the ball. It was good to get back out there with my teammates and hear them cheer for me on the side.”

Okafor said he tried to convince Brown to let him extend past the script of no more than eight minutes.

“He was like, ‘Have your lawyer call my lawyer,'" Okafor said. “We will talk about the season home opener (on Wednesday night against Oklahoma City), and hopefully I can increase my minutes.”

Okafor said he didn’t want to put a number on how many minutes he thought he could’ve played in his season debut except to say he knew he could play more.

Interestingly, Embiid, who had 18 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes, said he felt Okafor was a bit fatigued.

“I think he was a little bit tired,” Embiid said. “Obviously, he hasn’t played in a while. But just like me, he’s going to dig down. He is a proven scorer. He can do whatever he wants on the court.

“Once he gets back in shape, we as a team are going to be really good.”

Okafor was a minus-5 while he was on the court. But Brown said he was impressed by some of the less-hyped aspects of Okafor’s game.

“I thought he was really good defensively,” Brown said. “He sat in his stance and moved his feet. I thought he did a great job of fronting the post.”

Brown said the Noel injury was almost unfair.

“Clearly, it was a situation in the preseason where he would have played a lot,” Brown said. “The timing is unfortunate.”

Instant Replay: Jahlil Okafor returns in Sixers' preseason finale win over Heat

Instant Replay: Jahlil Okafor returns in Sixers' preseason finale win over Heat


MIAMI — On a day when the Sixers learned Nerlens Noel would require minor surgery, they saw Jahlil Okafor make his preseason debut.

Okafor, who had right knee surgery in March and experienced soreness on that same knee Sept. 30, played seven minutes Friday night and scored four points as the Sixers went on to win their preseason finale, 113-110, over the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena.

Noel will have a minor surgical procedure on his left knee in the coming days (see story). He has been out since Oct. 6 because of a left groin strain, but while undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to a discovery of an inflamed plica. Noel missed his rookie season (2013-14) after surgery on his left knee.

The Sixers finished their exhibition season with a 2-5 record as they broke a five-game losing streak with the win over the Heat.

But that was not even close to being the Sixers' main story of the day.

So let’s quickly review the injury status of the four center/forwards the Sixers have drafted with top-six picks in the past four years:

• 6-11 Noel, the sixth pick in 2013, awaits surgery.

• 7-0 Joel Embiid, the third pick in 2014, missed his first two seasons because of surgeries on his right foot. He is playing well now, though, producing 18 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes on Friday. He fouled out late in the fourth quarter but made 8-of-16 shots from the floor.

• 6-11 Okafor, the third pick in 2015, is being eased back in and will be used in a reserve role with a minutes restriction to start the regular season. He played under a six-to-eight-minutes restriction Friday. In addition to his four points, Okafor compiled one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover.

• 6-10 Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in 2016, had foot surgery earlier this month. (There’s more on him below.)

Over the past three years, the Sixers are a dreadful 47-199, including 10-72 last season. But the organization hopes that if the four big men listed above can get and stay reasonably healthy, that can begin to change.

The game
The Sixers trailed by eight points at halftime, 62-54, but used a strong second half to rally and win late on a pair of Jerami Grant free throws.

The Sixers trailed by nine midway through the third quarter before outscoring the Heat, 20-13, the rest of the stanza, trimming the deficit to two. A back-and-forth fourth quarter unfolded until guard Hollis Thompson nailed a jumper to hand the Sixers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Rookie forward Dario Saric hit a three-pointer with one minute remaining to provide the Sixers a four-point cushion, 111-107. Saric scored a game-high 19 points and snagged seven rebounds in 29 minutes.

Grant scored 17 points off the bench while Sergio Rodriguez started at point guard and posted 13 points and four assists.

Okafor-Embiid combination?
Sixers coach Brett Brown said “the instruction was always to deliver [Okafor] to opening night, with the end game being trying to figure out how we can play [Embiid] and Jahlil maybe down the road."

For the moment, though, Brown said he wanted to split the center spot three ways — with about 20 minutes for Embiid, six to eight for Okafor and the rest for Richaun Holmes.

Walking it back
Scratch that January timetable for Simmons, at least for now. Brown said on Friday night that he “misspoke” earlier in the day when he stated that Simmons is on schedule to return in January from foot surgery.

Brown said he misspoke because he was “just getting excited about when [Simmons] might be able to come back,” (see story).

More injury updates
• Guard Jerryd Bayless (left wrist ligament injury) will pursue a non-surgical treatment. He has been participating in non-contact individualized workouts and will be reevaluated in two weeks.

• Saric left the game with 7:11 remaining in the second quarter after he was kneed in the midsection by Heat wing Justise Winslow, who was driving to the basket on the play.

Saric, of course, returned in the second half and played well.

Up next
The Sixers, who have 20 players listed on their roster, could start making cuts late Friday night or on Saturday. Their roster has to be trimmed to no more than 15 players by Monday.

On Wednesday, the Sixers start their regular season with a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That begins a three-game homestand that also includes tests against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, Oct. 29, and the Orlando Magic on Nov. 1.