At first he was annoyed that a stranger managed to get his cell number. Once he learned why the person called, his heart swelled with pride.
Mavericks rookie D.J. Mbenga will meet Dikembe Mutombo for the first time tonight. Dikembe Mutombo dreamed that someone from the Congo would join him in the NBA. Now, a 23-year-old kid named D.J. Mbenga was calling to say he had been drafted by the Dallas Mavericks.
A relationship developed. The two have spoken by phone, sometimes as often as twice a day, for the last five months. Tonight's game between the Houston Rockets and Mavericks allows Mutombo and Mbenga to meet for the first time.
D.J. Mbenga has appeared in only six games as a rookie with the Mavericks this season. "I can't wait," Mutombo said.
He had to wait 14 years. Other players from Africa have played in the league during that period. But none were born in Kinshasa, Zaire, like Mutombo.
Mbenga (pronounced BENG-a) was born in Kinshasa and grew up in Belgium, which is home to more than one million Congolese. Mutombo is someone he's always admired.
"Not just for me, for every guy from Africa," Mbenga said. "Mutombo is a big example. If you see him play, you are thankful for the opportunity.
"He doesn't work just for basketball, but for many children, many young people. He's an example for everybody."
John Mbenga and Ilo Mutombo, the brothers of the two athletes, are friends. That's how Mbenga got Mutombo's cell number. Mbenga enjoys the frequent discussions and said the Rockets center acts like a father or older brother.
"The big advice I give him is you thank God for being rich now after coming from the poverty," Mutombo said. "But watch out. The way we've been brought up, we've been brought up in the family, in the circle. We can't leave that circle. It's part of the African culture.
"But in a sense you want to protect your own interest. One day, you want to have kids, and you want to make sure your kids enjoy your fortune. That is why I'm insisting to him about it."
Mutombo isn't advising Mbenga to turn his back on family or culture. Mbenga has an obligation to be generous. He simply warns his protégé to be wise with the two-year, $1.68 million contract he signed with the Mavericks.
"I told him you're in your first year," Mutombo said. "Don't try to share what you get in your first year. Wait until maybe your fourth year. Tell everybody to wait. He's telling me he's getting so many phone calls.
"In America you're more independent. What I get is for me. My brother has to go get his. In Africa, if you get it, your brothers, your sisters, your father, your cousins, they have to get something. It's like a blessing came to the family. It's tough for Americans to understand that."
It was equally tough for Mutombo's family to understand why he was so slow to share his blessings. Most of the money he made his first four years in the league was set aside for what would become his American family – his wife Rose and their six children (four adopted). That created friction back home and charges by family members that Mutombo wasn't doing enough.
That began to change at the end of his fourth season when Mutombo bought his parents a house. A few months later he flew to Europe, bought 12 cars and shipped them to various family members in the Congo.
"He told me if you can help, help," Mbenga said. "If you can't, don't. He told me to be careful with my money."
Mutombo has another message to deliver when the two meet on this trip.
"The first thing I'm going to do is take him to the barber shop," Mutombo said. "He needs to get a haircut. What is that shaved on the side of his head? I don't know."
It sounds like something a father would say.
Is there anything Mbenga wants to say to Mutombo?
"When we do," Mbenga said, "I want to speak Congan, not French or English."