Saturday, March 11, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Before basketball hall-of-famer Dikembe Mutombo became a household name, mainly for wagging his finger at opponents after blocking their shots, he spent his college days playing at Georgetown.
And in 1991, when UNLV was undefeated on its way to a second consecutive Final Four appearance, the Rebels got the best of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament second round. Mutombo had 16 points and nine rebounds in the loss to Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Co.
“Those suckers are the ones that stopped us from making it that year,” Mutombo jokingly said following a press event Thursday at the MGM Grand for this weekend’s Las Vegas NASCAR race. “They were great.”
Georgetown and UNLV have drastically declined since Mutombo’s tenure with the Hoyas from 1988 to 1991, the same period in which UNLV won its first-and-only basketball national championship in 1990.
UNLV finished last in the Mountain West this season with a 11-21 record and dropped Wednesday’s opening game of the conference tournament. Georgetown finished 14-18 record this year and also lost its opening round game of the Big East Tournament on Wednesday.
Speaking about UNLV, the 50-year-old Mutombo said he didn’t understand why a program with so much history in a city known for its fun and bright lights has failed. That’s especially true, he said, when considering the area annually hosts the most star-studded AAU championship tournaments in the country each summer.
“Kids in high school dream about going to Vegas to play in the AAU,” he said. “The question remains, why are the city and school not able to convince these young players to play college basketball here, too?”
Asked about Las Vegas’ potential as a future home of an NBA franchise, Mutombo said the valley’s population growth over the past decade puts Las Vegas in the conversation.
Mutombo, who worked briefly after his lengthy playing career in former NBA commissioner David Stern’s office, said executives on the inside are “talking about it.” He cited Las Vegas’ successful hosting of the NBA Summer League since 2007 as an example of why officials might believe in the city as a future franchise home.
“The league is still growing and I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “People in Las Vegas just need to hold their breath a little bit.”