The Old Guys Might Not Be Ready To Stop
LOS ANGELES - The last time I spoke with Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo in January, he was done. Finished. Ready to call it a career.
Back then, he was a role player whose primary role was to clap his hands and root on his teammates from the bench. He only saw action when the result was already determined, in blowout losses and wins. He went days, sometimes weeks without seeing the floor.
Mutombo, the league's oldest player, was resigned to quietly going out as the second-best shot-blocker of all-time and he talked about how special it was to make his last appearance in Washington.
"Where the legend was born," the former Georgetown star said.
That was more than a month before Yao Ming broke his left foot, was lost for the season and Mutombo was thrust into the role as a starter; before he re-popularized the finger wag and showed the rest of the league that he still has something to offer at age 41 - since that's what the media guide says.
Mutombo hasn't been a dominant defensive force, but he has been a presence, especially in the past four games, in which he averaged 8.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots - a considerable increase over his season averages of 2.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
After he had eight points and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers, I asked Mutombo if he really was going to leave the game when this season ends. Mutombo shook his head and chuckled. His career might not be over after 17 seasons, four defensive player of the year awards, more than 12,000 rebounds and 3,000 blocked shots.
"It's crazy," Mutombo said. "The owner [Les Alexander is] chasing me everyday, man. I'm going crazy in the back of my mind, man. When you have the GM [Dary Morey], the owner, the team president, your teammates, coaches. Walking away is tough, man. So, I'm just sitting down letting [agent] David [Falk] handle some of the issues, then me and my wife can talk and try and figure it out. I know she want me home at some time."
I caught with another player with D.C. ties over weekend - Juwan Howard. Remember him? The reason Dominic McGuire might want to re-think his jersey number (No. 5) considering how Howard and the incomparable Kwame Brown departed this town.
You may have forgotten about Juwan because he hardly ever plays for the Dallas Mavericks, averaging career lows in minutes (7.0), points (1.1) and rebounds (1.6) in his 14th season in the league. That is a precipitous drop from his production last season in Houston (9.7 points, 5.9 rebounds) and probably not what he expected after accepting a buyout from Minnesota to join a championship contender.
But he's still around; the last remaining member of the Fab Five still in the league after Jalen Rose started providing commentary for ESPN this season and Chris Webber was forced to retire last month because of a sore knee. I asked Juwan if it felt weird that he's the last man standing from the group that changed college basketball forever. "No it's not," Howard said. "I'm just going to try to continue to keep that name out there."
How much longer? The 35-year-old Howard said he doesn't have any plans to retire after this season - although that decision may very well be made by the league this summer. "I see myself playing at least another two years - God willing," said Howard, who has career averages of 15.4 points and 6.9 rebounds. "If He can continue to bless me with good health. After I'm done."
But Howard doesn't want to be too far from the game whenever he has to put aside his kicks. "When I do leave the game on the court, I would like to be a part of the game in some capacity. I want to stay as close to the game as possible because I love the teaching aspect, as well as management," Howard said. "My goal of course is to be a part of an organization that wants to build a winning, championship-caliber atmosphere. I want to help put that together. That's my goal."
An interesting side note about the Mavericks. They might have the most former all-stars on one team in recent memory. I have done a full search yet, so feel free to fact check. But check it out - Dallas has seven current and former all-stars on its roster. Yes, seven.
You probably guessed Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Those were easy choices. Josh Howard was probably easy, too, since he was on the all-star team last season. But the Mavericks also have Juwan Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Eddie Jones, and. . .Jamaal Magloire. That gets you the seventh seed in the West, huh?
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