The '90s were indeed a golden era for NBA centers. We had a bunch of great big men dominating the NBA and clashing with each other in the paint on a nightly basis. From the big dogs like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O'Neal to the overshadowed guys like Alonzo Mourning, Rik Smits, Brad Daugherty, and Dikembe Mutombo. It was a challenging time to be a center in the league, but also the most fun one.
But even though it was the time of the big men, the most dominant player of the '90s was still Michael Jordan. On his way to his six championships, MJ faced all of these guys and found a way to get the better of them one way or another. One of them was Dikembe Mutomobo. Far from the most talented or skilled player, "Mountain Mutombo" built an impressive career with his impeccable defensive prowess.
4x DPOY's and 6-All-NBA defensive nods do not do justice to Mutombo's defense in the paint, as he was one of the best rim protectors the NBA has ever seen. His infamous finger wag became an iconic signature move after blocking his opponents. So naturally, the always competitive MJ wanted to get the best out of the best defensive center and get that dunk on him. Eventually, like always, Jordan would succeed.
The two had some great battles and always got up for playing each other. Mutombo had one of his best NBA games precisely against Jordan, scoring 29 points alongside 22 rebounds and 3 blocks in a win back in 1993.
Recently Dikembe reminisced on those battles and shared why he loved playing against Jordan and the Bulls in the '90s:
"Everybody was looking (forward) to play against Michael Jordan. That's the reason why the day we played the Chicago Bulls (in 93), I think I had like my 29 points and then 22 rebounds because you can see the excitement after what's going on with me, and we end up beating them which was great. I think those are the games that gave me a chance also to elevate myself as an All-Star… But Michael was as funny as he was always and pleasing his friends by closing his eyes and shooting free throws. I was like what is this guy doing, what the heck."
Dikembe Mutombo, BTM Basketball Time Machine
Mutombo maybe had one of the best signature celebrations with his finger wag, especially considering he was such an elite blocker. But no one could outshine and out trash talk the great Michael Jordan. Even though Jordan won against everyone, a lot of players from that era still speak fondly of those battles due to the excitement and spotlight of playing some of the best teams ever, just like Dikembe said. After all, beating a prime Michael Jordan was a challenging task, leaving no opponent too devastated after losing to those Bulls teams.