The tallest man at Sen. John McCain’s funeral wept like so many others he towered over Saturday inside the National Cathedral.
“The most touching part was listening to Meghan (McCain, the senator’s daughter),” Dikembe Mutombo told USA TODAY Sports as he reached into his left pocket. “I have tissues, as you can see. The tears were coming out all over the place.”
Mutombo, the 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame NBA player who attended nearby Georgetown, befriended McCain and his wife, Cindy, nearly three decades ago. Mutombo was a spokesperson for the international relief agency CARE when he first was introduced to the McCains during the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.
“My favorite memory of John McCain is when he and his wife asked to come with me to Somalia to see the refugee crisis,” Mutombo said. “He told me, ‘We want to go with you to Somalia. I want to see what you guys are doing and to see the program you have in place.’ We have been friends for 27 years, and this loss is very big for me and also for my family and foundation. He’s been a great supporter of my work.”
Mutombo, who founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation in 1997, has led several relief efforts on behalf of his native continent, including building a hospital in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. The McCain Institute for International Leadership honored Mutombo with its Award for Courage and Leadership in 2016.
Mutombo said John McCain was also a “great friend to the NBA,” but the late senator also left a lasting legacy in boxing.
After Saturday’s service, Vitali Klitschko, the former boxer-turned-Ukrainian politician, credited McCain for leading the passage of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. The federal legislation, which became law in 2000, added financial and health safeguards for fighters.
“I was close with him,” Klitschko said. “He followed my sports career. He came to my fights and went to fights to watch my brother, Wladimir. He always gave me advice. Not many people remember the Ali law. He was a great person.”
Klitschko also noted McCain’s strong pro-democracy stance, one that took him around the world through the decades. Klitschko, now the mayor of Kiev, received an invitation from McCain’s family amid tension in his home country after Russia annexed Crimea, among other aggressive moves by the Kremlin.
“All his life, he fought for democracy,” Klitschko said.