KINSHASA, Congo (AP) -- There was no finger wagging Monday when former pro basketball star Dikembe Mutombo guided U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton through a hospital he founded in his native Congo.
Instead of offering up the gesture that was his trademark over 18 seasons of blocking shots in NBA games, the soft-spoken Mutombo smiled playfully at infants in a maternity ward and explained why he donated $19 million of his own money to fund the Kinshasa facility named for his late mother.
"This hospital was such a dream and today it is becoming a reality and so important to so many people," the 42-year-old Congo native said. "We think that Congolese people deserve better health care and we hope that what we are doing here is setting an example so that people can have hope."
Dwarfed by the 7-foot-2 Mutombo, Clinton was clearly impressed by the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, which opened in December 2007. She recalled having met Mutombo's mother in 1994 when the basketball star visited the White House while she was first lady.
"For me, it's like coming full circle having met his mother and knowing how much she inspired and supported him," she said. "Now he has taken his extraordinary success as a basketball player and has one of the biggest foundations in Africa, working not only here in his home country but around the continent to help provide services to people.''
"It's a great tribute to his mother and to the values she raised him with," Clinton said.
Later, at a town hall meeting with students at a Kinshasa college, Mutombo said he had been moved to build the hospital after his mother, who lived just outside the Congolese capital, died in 1998 because a curfew kept her from getting to a hospital in the city.
Mutombo also noted that he had hoped to become a doctor and was studying medicine at Georgetown University in Washington before his basketball talent was discovered.
He played for six NBA teams, was the league's top defensive player four times and was selected for eight All-Star games during his career.