Did Bush Tell a Tall Tale?

Jan 23, 2007 9:41pm

ABC’s Karen Travers reports: In tonight’s State of the Union speech, President Bush calls attention to his special guest in the audience, NBA basketball player, Dikembe Mutombo. But in referring to Mutombo, is the President being fully factual, or repeating a sports legend?

Bush says: "Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine – but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth – or the duty to share his blessings with others. He has built a brand new hospital in his hometown. A friend has said of this good hearted man: ‘Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things.’ And we are proud to call this son of the Congo our fellow American."

But Travers, a former sports editor of the Georgetown student newspaper, ‘The Hoya,’ raises whether this famous Mutumbo tale is perhaps a bit too tall. 

First, Travers says that Dikembe Mutombo came to Georgetown University to study languages – he enrolled in the School of Languages and Linguistics according to Hoyabasketball.com, a site run by another former Hoya sports editor, John Reagan.

Second, the arrival of a 7-2 freshman on campus may not have been a surprise to Hoya Head Coach John Thompson. Mutombo played on the Zairean junior national team in 1986 and caught the attention of U.S. development officer Herman Henning, who sent a tape of Mutombo to Georgetown, according to Regan’s site.

Mutombo did not play on the Hoyas basketball team his freshman year. Despite his fluency in nine languages, he could not qualify for the NCAA because of its SAT requirement (English was not one of Mutombo’s strongest languages)

Mutombo joined the basketball team during his second year at Georgetown.

Yet the legend continues – and is advanced by the President – that Thompson saw Mutombo on campus and asked him to come out for the team. And three years later, he was in the NBA, after the Denver Nuggets selected him fourth in the draft.

The real story? Perhaps only Mutombo and Coach Thompson can say for sure.

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