More than his All-Star appearances, scattered playoff glories, or his myriad defensive records, Dikembe Mutombo, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, will known—nay, cherished—for his finger wag.
Thousands of times in his professional career, the 7-foot-2, Kinshasa-born center would follow the act of blocking a shot with the patented gesture of rejection:
In August, before his official enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, Mutombo was asked about the story behind the taunt. In a deep, gravelly voice that perfectly befits someone who has embarrassed everyone from Shaquille O’Neal to Michael Jordan by tossing their ill-thought shots away from the rim, he explained that the finger wag was to “let them know that the man cannot fly in the house of Mutombo.” (Mutombo, it should be known, earned bachelor’s degrees in both diplomacy and linguistics while playing hoops at Georgetown University.)
Both O’Neal and Jordan did eventually scale Mt. Mutumbo and returned the gesture; nevertheless, Mutombo is still regarded as one of the best defensive players of his generation for his ability to protect the rim. Defensive prowess is one thing, but the development of the finger wag was a genius stroke that turned him into a psychological force.