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“David, I can’t. It’s just coming naturally” — how David Stern tried to stop Dikembe Mutombo from wagging his finger

Despite David Stern's plea, Dikembe Mutumbo kept on taunting his opponent after blocking his shot.
NBA commissioner David Stern and legend Dikembe Mutombo

David Stern and Dikembe Mutombo

Dikembe Mutumbo came to fame not just through his shot-blocking ability but what he did after swatting a shot attempt. Mutumbo stared into his opponent’s eyes and wagged his finger, much to the crowd’s delight. While it was all great entertainment, then NBA commissioner David Stern wasn’t keen on Mutumbo’s antics. So much so that he tried anything he could to stop the big man.

“Deke, can you stop?”

Every time Mutumbo wagged his finger, the crowd jeered. From behind the curtains, NBA officials jotted down a sanction under Mutumbo’s name with a corresponding fine. The four-time Defensive Player of the Year recalled paying as much as $5,000 for every technical foul.

Back then, I didn’t really care how much money they were fining me. I know it was $5,000 for every technical foul. For a few years, I let the NBA give me a technical foul, but my technical fouls weren’t, like, me going after the referee or cursing. I was just having fun,” Mutumbo said, per BroBible.

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Deke was sure having fun. But then NBA commissioner David Stern didn’t want the money. He wanted Mutumbo to quit his antics. But the shot block master admitted to Stern that he couldn’t just stop wagging his finger.

I remember Uncle David [Stern], our late commissioner, used to call me all the time and say, ‘Deke! What’s going on? Can you stop? Can you stop?’ and I said ‘David, I can’t. It’s just coming naturally,’” Mutumbo said.

A little tweak

Unfortunately, not even the league’s commissioner could stop Mutumbo. After swatting his opponent’s shot, Deke kept wagging his finger right in his face. The technical fouls kept piling up. Mutumbo didn’t care. But those giving the technicals got tired of slapping Mutumbo with T after T. And so they allowed him to go on with his antics but only under one condition.

It got to the point where there were so many coaches complaining, and he told me, ‘You know what? You can just do it. We’re not going to fine you anymore. Just make sure you look at the fans when you’re doing it.’ It took the NBA like 15 years before they changed their mind about it,” Mutumbo said.

From the looks of it, the NBA finally discovered the marketing potential of Mutumbo’s finger wag. It’s easily one of the most recognizable signature taunts up to this day. Players sometimes unveil the finger wag from time to time. They’re not just taunting their opponent, they are giving a shoutout to Mutumbo — the OG of the finger wag. 

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