Dikembe Mutombo was jockeying for position with Greg Oden on a rebound late in the first quarter Tuesday night, and in an instant everything changed.
Mutombo, who has been a defensive spark for the Rockets for 5 seasons, fell to the floor. He grabbed his knee and rolled around in obvious pain.
The Rockets said it was a knee strain, but you knew it was more than that. An emotional Mutombo confirmed it after the game when asked if his season was over.
"No," said Mutombo. "It's over for me for my career."
"It's just bad. I might need surgery," said Mutombo. "I'm going to be around for as far as we can go in the championship run. I'll be with my teammates in support and give them the same love that they give to me, but for me, basketball... it's over."
Mutombo said he was very disappointed, but put it in perspective.
"I cried so much about it when I was laying on the floor," said Mutombo. "But when I got in the locker room, Keith [Jones] and I talk a lot about I need to be positive and thank God for the wonderful 18 years I had."
It's a huge blow to the Rockets for this playoff run, but even that seems too small of a description ... this loss is much bigger than just that.
Deke came to the Rockets in 2004 having been discarded by the Knicks and Bulls for virtually nothing. His career was supposedly over then and he shocked everyone by becoming a key piece of a very strong defensive team in Houston. Year after year, Deke came back and showed he still had it.
His patented finger-wag after a blocked shot made him a massive fan favorite, but he's much more than just a player. His charity work and Herculean efforts in building a hospital in Africa are practically legendary now.
Great player. Great man. Dikembe Mutombo -- so painful to see you go out like this, but you will be sorely missed in Houston.