FOR a five year stretch at the turn of the century, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo were the most dominant defenders in the entire NBA. Between them, the men in the middle won five consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards from ’97 to ’01 as the twin towers established themselves as dangerous difference-makers. Their excellence lasted much longer than five years, with the duo owning the paint for a good portion of the ’90s and ’00s. When stacking their career accomplishments next to one another, a lot of similarities can be found between Mourning and Mutombo. Only one of them can stake their claim as the winner of the CTP discussion though…
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DESPITE playing a combined 33 seasons in the NBA, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo only claimed one title between them. Mourning was the lucky recipient of a championship ring for his contributions to the ’06 Miami Heat squad, while Mutombo made a trip to the Finals with Philly in 2001 and then with the artist formerly known as the New Jersey Nets in 2003. Both big men saw their production dip in the postseason, with the latter part of their playoff careers hardly worth rehashing. However, as starters they excelled in the late ’90s, with Mourning a near 20/10 double-double adding a hair under three blocks a game and Mutombo coming in close behind his counterpart – averaging 12.7 PPG, 12.6 RPG and 3.3 BPG. Scoring difference aside, Mourning managed to snag a few more series wins (10-7) than Mutombo and while you can attribute that partially to supporting cast, Mourning made his presence felt for longer during his playoff career.
Edge: Mourning (Just)
THERE’S no need to spend too long here. Alonzo Mourning managed to produce a 17.1 point average over his NBA journey, regularly scoring over 20 PPG in his days as a Charlotte Hornet. His career points average nearly doubles Dikembe’s production, with Mutombo managing to score over 14 points a night in his rookie season at Denver. Owning a better shooting percentage for his career from the field, three-point line and the free-throw line all but hammers the nail in the coffin – giving Zo an easy win as the better offensive player.
Image from espn.com
IF Mourning cakewalked his way to a win on offense, then Mutombo might be about to do the same on D. As mentioned above, both players claimed a number of Defensive Player of the Year honours with their career average of 2.8 blocks per indicating how consistent and dominant they both were for nearly two decades. From a rebounding perspective, Mutombo was one of the finest glass eaters of his generation, leading the NBA in total boards on four occasions (’95, ’97, ’99 & ’00) and finishing in the top-3 on four other occasions (’93, ’94, ’98 & ’01). Alonzo never led the league in rebounds, but he did manage to twice finish as the annual leader in blocks in 1999 and 2000 – the same two seasons that Mourning captured his DPOY trophies. Mutumbo, on the other hand, was the blocks leader in three consecutive seasons (’94-’96) and captured four Defensive Player of the year awards in a seven-year stretch – helping cement his victory in this bracket.
MOURNING – 1993 East First Round Game 4
COMING back from a kidney to win a chip with Miami is pretty epic, but Zo’s finest moment came much earlier in his NBA career – during his rookie season to be exact. Mourning’s first year in the league coincided with the Charlotte Hornets’ first playoff berth and their prize was a matchup with the favoured Boston Celtics. Despite failing to top 20 points in both Game 2 & 3, the Hornets still managed to hold a 2-1 lead in the best of five series and Game 4 came down to the final possession with Charlotte trailing by one. Cometh the moment, cometh the man, with Mourning canning a 20-footer from the top of the key, eliminating the Celtics, and handing the Hornets their first playoff series victory in franchise history.
MUTOMBO – 1994 West First Round
Let’s be honest, Mutombo should win based on this story alone, however, we are valuing the pair as basketballers. His iconic finger wave can’t really qualify as a certain moment, but the 1994 playoffs can. He set the record for the most blocks in a five-game series against Seattle (32) and followed it up by setting the record for most blocks in a seven-game series against the Jazz (38). That series against Seattle is the one everyone will remember Mutombo from though. After falling down 0-2 he rallied Denver to lead them back to record a 3-2 victory, including back-to-back overtime victories to close out the series. Making the feat more impressive, that series W marked the first time in NBA history a #8 seed (the 42-40 Denver Nuggets) defeated a #1 seed (the 63-19 Seattle Supersonics).
Both moments are an important part of NBA history with the pair of big men able to hold their heads high after pushing their squads further into the postseason. However, the edge goes to Mourning here. Upsetting the Supersonics was more of a team achievement regardless of how individually brilliant Mutombo’s play was and not many former players can say they were solely responsible for a franchises’ first playoff series win.
Edge: Mourning (Just)
THE defensive presence from both Mourning and Mutombo helped them shine and collect most of their accolades on that side of the ball. Alonzo made a pair of consecutive All-Defensive First teams in 1999 and 2000, with those selections coming in the same seasons he collected his Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Dikembe, on the other hand, made six All-Defense squads in his tenure, as well as claiming twice as many DPOY’s. They both made their fair share of All-Star appearances (7 for Mourning, 8 for Mutombo) in their career’s, but the defensive awards coupled with Mutombo’s career block total (2nd most in NBA history behind Hakeem Olajuwon) make him the easy winner here.
IT’S near impossible to measure the impact that Dikembe Mutombo has had on the game of basketball. Hailing from Congo he is a well-known humanitarian worker who twice won the leagues Citizenship of the Year award. Mutombo helped expand the NBA to African countries not only through his playing success but his many charitable organisations and endeavours. Mourning has done plenty of charity work himself, pairing with other professional American athletes to involve others in charity work and volunteer their time and resources for the less fortunate. On the court, both were able to impact the game in a profound way early in their careers, but Mutombo’s off-court endeavours, his defensive prowess and shot-blocking ability – coupled with that iconic finger wag, help him claim this category.
Image from reddit.com
WINNER – DIKEMBE MUTOMBO
ANOTHER argument that ends in an appropriate 3-3 tie as a tribute to two legends of the hardwood. Alonzo Mourning is consistently underappreciated and had a stellar career, but his resume was aided by playing on some quality teams. Take nothing away from him offensively, as he comprehensively beats Mutombo in that regard. In the first eight years of his career, Mourning was a 20 point, 10 rebound, 3 block guarantee, averages that only Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson were able to sustain throughout their entire pro career.
DESPITE all his offensive excellence it’s impossible to not give Mutombo the win, purely based on the global impact he had on basketball. A cultural ambassador for the game throughout Africa, Mutombo’s play was able to expand the NBA’s global audience, while we witnessed one of the greatest defensive careers unfold in the process. Both had careers in a similar time period and of similar length and looking overall at their awards, impact, success and basketball career the verdict goes the way of Dikembe Mutombo.
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