Former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo is doing his bit to help basketball continue to grow internationally.
Appointed as the NBA's global ambassador in 2009, Mutombo is in Japan to conduct basketball clinics with the Basketball Without Borders program.
The four-day camp in Japan is attended by the top 50 young basketball players from 18 Asian countries. NBA players Samuel Dalembert of the Houston Rockets, Vladimir Radmanovic of the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets guard Corey Brewer and former NBA player Yuta Tabuse of Japan are also taking part in the clinics.
"We bring our knowledge of the game and pass it on to young people," Mutombo said. "I am proud to say that there are now about 200 or 250 young men who took part in Basketball Without Borders who are now playing in American high schools and colleges."
When he started his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets in 1991, Mutombo was just the third African player in the league following Manute Bol and Hakeem Olajuwon.
"After I made it to the NBA, I said that I didn't want to be the last player from Africa," Mutombo said. "After my rookie year, I went to the league and talked about this and they embraced my idea and started conducting basketball clinics in Africa and that's when I knew I wouldn't be the last African."
One of the most prominent Africans in the game today is Serge Ibaka who is playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo, played for Spanish clubs for three years before moving to the NBA in 2009. He became a Spanish national in 2011.
In 2010, 28 of the NBA's 30 teams featured at least one international player. The Toronto Raptors had six international players on its 2011-12 roster including Solomon Alabi from Nigeria.
"I am pleased to see how many young Africans, Europeans and Asians there are in the game today, the league is so international now."
Another international player who may make it to the NBA someday is Mutombo's nephew Harouna Mutombo, a 6-foot-4 guard who plays college basketball at Western Carolina. Harouna was born in Canada and is eligible for this year's NBA draft.
"I really want to see him play in the NBA but I tell him you have to keep all the options on the table," Mutombo said. "If the opportunity doesn't come to play in the NBA next year maybe he can play in Europe or Asia, not everyone can make it in the NBA, so I tell him to leave the door open, I am sure he will end up playing somewhere."
During his visit to Japan, Mutombo visited the city of Sendai, which was hit by last year's earthquake and tsunami.
"I was very pleased to see the progress that is being made and the spirit of the people in Sendai,'' Mutombo said. "They are so strong and positive, they have this spirit that says we might have gone through a lot today but we know tomorrow will be better."
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