Dikembe Mutombo created the finger wag. By the time he retired from the NBA, the celebration had grown larger than his career.
Mutombo is one of the six players who will be inducted to the NBA Hall of Fame on Friday. Mutombo has enshrined his name throughout the NBA defensive history books, ranking second all time in blocked shots while earning eight All-Star nods and four Defensive Player of the Year awards. He was on the first No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 -- the Nuggets over the SuperSonics in 1994 -- and helped the 76ers push through the Eastern Conference to the NBA Finals in 2001.
But nothing will live longer than the way his finger wag turned shot blocking from a utilitarian play to the cult status it holds now. Bill Russell pioneered the blocked shot, of course, directing overly ambitious attempts to his teammates to start fast breaks, but Mutombo made them cool. Today, a destructive denial that sends a ball into the stands can be just as celebrated as a big dunk. You can thank Mutombo for permanently changing the play's persona.
Mutombo bounced around in his NBA career, playing for six teams in his 19 seasons before retiring after his 42rd birthday. Yet the finger wagging was a constant between it all. While Mutombo doesn't remember when the first one happened, he knows why he began the iconic one-finger shake.
"Back then, I would shake my head when I used to block shots," Mutombo told Buzzfeed's Max Blau. "I really didn't have a signature ... I had to come up with something [for when] I was dominating a game."
It quickly became one of the most recognizable acts in the NBA. Mt. Mutombo blocked everyone indiscriminately: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and so many more all fell victim to his 7'2 stature. The finger wag was there to remind whichever poor sap's career Mutombo forever impacted with a debilitating block that they weren't going to score on him now or ever again. It was psychological warfare at its finest. It was a not-so-hidden message that Mutombo was out to get you anytime you approached the rim:
Before the finger wag, iconic celebrations weren't very common. Mutombo changed that. All of a sudden, inspired players started throwing on fake championship belts, doing a big balls dance or finger pointing after a huge dunk. Three-point celebrations exploded, too. We got to see Vince Carter's signalling "It's over" after his 2000 dunk contest and DeShawn Stevenson's "I can't feel my face" routine. Today, it's even more elaborate: LeBron James' silent stomp, James Harden's pot stirring, Russell Westbrook's holstering his three-point guns. Where would we be without Mutombo turning celebrations into something every star player had to have?
As good as all those celebrations are, Mutombo's still reigns atop them all. His is the only one with its own television commercial, after all:
Shot blockers today still break out the Mutombo finger wag. It's now legendary.
There's no doubt Mutombo deserves his Hall-of-Fame induction -- the numbers back it up -- but his finger wag is the lasting memory of one of the best defenders in NBA history.