JOHANNESBURG - The philanthropist at heart that is Bismack Biyombo is at home in Joburg as part of a group of NBA players, coaches and executives giving back and inspiring the next generation of basketball players.
The Orlando Magic centre from the Democratic Republic of Congo has spent the better part of this week sharing his skills in the Basketball Without Borders Africa programme as well as taking part in a number of initiatives to give back to communities in Lenasia and Ennerdale.
That’s nothing new for Biyombo as he has spent part of the fortune he has amassed from the sport, including the $72 million dollar contract he signed last year, to grow the game on the continent.
A bright smile from the gigantic player envelopes his face as he talks about how he fell in love with basketball growing up in Lubumbashi which he left as a 16-year-old for Yemen before playing in Spain.
“It was one of my uncles who planted the first seed,” Biyombo said. “But as you grow and watch the NBA, you get inspired and continue to grow as a player. I’ve been inspired by a lot of players in the game of basketball, from far away. Now that I am one of those players, I would like to inspire as many as I can.
"t’s a never-ending chain that ensures that more people get to the sport, especially from Africa, so that we can have more and more players in the league.”
The growth of the game on the continent will be on show on Saturday at the Ticketpro Dome. Biyombo will be part of Team Africa, made up of players born on the continent or with links to it, who will take on Team World in an exhibition match.
Biyombo is part of a growing list of Africans who are holding their own in the NBA. That’s why this trip is important to him on two levels, to show the huge strides the continent is making and ensure that the number of Africans in the NBA increases by inspiring the next generation.
“You’ve got to have hope, that’s what kept me growing in a sport that wasn’t that huge in the continent when I started out,” Biyombo said.
“The basketball landscape has changed a lot from when I was a kid to now that I am an athlete. We’ve built a lot of courts and we continue to build a lot more, evolve and involve the next generation of players.
"We’ve done a tremendous job, not just in Congo but all over the continent. The game has grown so much that it doesn’t take chance or luck anymore to find the next generation of players from Africa.”