Moe Harkless to Portland

More HoopsHype Rumors
November 24, 2015 | 10:12 pm EST Update
November 24, 2015 | 7:56 pm EST Update
I never dreamed of seeing my number go up into the rafters of an NBA arena. I’ve worn many uniforms in this league, but I’m so honored to have my jersey retired here in Atlanta, the city I now call home. Home is not a word I say lightly. When I came to America as a student, I had nothing. Finding a home away from home was the most important thing to me — even more important than basketball. From the first day I arrived, there were so many people who went out of their way to make me feel at home. When I landed at Dulles Airport in 1987, three students were waiting to greet me in French because I didn’t know any English. At that moment, I felt like I was not lost in the middle of the forest. I will never forget them and I even stay in touch with some of them today. And Coach John Thompson believed in me even when nobody knew who I was.
Before I arrived to Georgetown, the media was saying, “Who’s this … Mutamby guy?” No one could pronounce my name: Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo. So Coach Thompson held a press conference. No one had seen me play basketball. No one had seen me at all. Coach Thompson wanted to have some fun. “We have a new recruit from Africa,” he said. “Wait until you see him. He’s 5’10”, but believe me, the kid’s going to be very good.” Everyone’s jaws were on the floor when I walked into practice for the first time. Like I had grown from 5’10” to 7’2” in one week.
Under Coach Thompson’s leadership, you couldn’t be a basketball player unless you cared about school, too. I learned that lesson in my sophomore year. I only missed one day of class at Georgetown. But even one day was a mistake. I woke up that day with a toothache and decided to skip all of my classes. I went straight to the dentist and I forgot to call the basketball office to let them know. When I showed up to practice that afternoon, there was a piece of paper in my locker: It was a one-way plane ticket back to Congo. This was not a fake ticket. Coach Thompson really bought a one-way ticket with my name on it. Today, he will laugh about it. But it was not funny to me that day. I started to cry at my locker. I had already seen two friends get kicked out of school for academic reasons. I was not going to be the third. Coach Thompson liked to play jokes, but he was serious underneath. I never missed another class again.

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