“We will all die. The goal isn’t to live forever; the goal is to create something that will. #gomawebless #onamission #DRC” – Bismack Biyombo, via Twitter on July 24
By John Denton
Aug. 3, 2017
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo doesn’t just recite and repeat inspirational, feel-good quotes via his active presence on social media; he lives his life through those messages of hope and promise by following through with meaningful actions.
Biyombo hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a volcano-scarred, war-torn country that is the very definition of a paradox in that it is both one of the richest and poorest nations in the world. While the DRC possesses some of the most wanted natural minerals of anywhere in the world, the country is also a place where the life expectancy is in the 50s, the infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world and hunger and death by starvation are commonplace.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Biyombo made it out of the DRC because of his basketball talents, but in many ways he’s never left. Biyombo has spent most of this offseason back on his home continent of Africa and in the DRC, readying for the Sept. 4th opening of the Kivu International School in Goma that he has heavily funded. The expansive facility features a variety of classroom buildings, a library with more than 8,000 books, a 135-seat auditorium and an artificial turf soccer pitch. Then, there’s the Bismack Biyombo Basketball Stadium, the first covered basketball stadium in the DRC and one that will seat 1,000 fans.
To Biyombo, the facility represents proof of him putting his work, time and finances where his proclamations are. He is serious about fulfilling his responsibility to being a difference-maker in the DRC and someone who can and will impact the lives there.
“It means the world to me,’’ said Biyombo, who annually brings 20 DRC students to the U.S. on scholarships so that they can attend college. “When I started this program back home, I never thought it would grow nationally and to the point where I could build this school for kids. At the end of the day, it’s just about transforming the next generation and making sure that these kids are well-educated.
“In general, there is just so much that can be done for these kids,’’ he added. “I feel like we’ve done well, but we’re going to continue. The appreciation from these kids, it means the world to me because I never thought I’d be in this position.’’
The position that Biyombo is in this week is serving as somewhat of an unofficial host for the NBA Africa 2017 Game on Saturday (11 a.m. ET, ESPN). It’s the 15th edition of the Basketball Without Borders Africa and it’s special to Biyombo because of his strong desire to grow the sport of basketball and his message of hope on his home continent. Dirk Nowitzki, Serge Ibaka, Kemba Walker and Luol Deng are some of the names scheduled to play in Saturday’s game, but it’s Biyombo who is one of the star attractions because of his heavy investment in the well-being of African children.
“It has been great. I’ve been a little bit all over the place between teaching the kids and thinking about the (responsibility) for us as young African players,’’ he said via a conference call from Johannesburg, South Africa. “The appreciation (from the kids in the camp) is beyond amazing. They always have a lot of questions about how I became what I’ve become and what’s forced me to continue to come back home. Questions like that, you go home and think about these kids looking up to you.’’
In addition to all of his work in his homeland, Biyombo has given great thought as to how he can help the Magic be better on the basketball floor this upcoming season. He signed a massive free-agent deal with the Magic in July of 2016, hoping to help the franchise get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Instead, the Magic struggled from the start, had difficulties overcoming an imbalanced roster and limped to a disappointing 29-53 record.
That led to changes that included the hirings of President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond. Weltman and Biyombo knew each other well from their time in Toronto during the 2015-16 season, and the new leader of the Magic mined the mind of Biyombo to figure out what was needed for the team. Weltman eventually drafted forwards Jonathan Isaac and Wesley Iwundu and signed veterans Jonathon Simmons, Arron Afflalo, Marreese Speights and Shelvin Mack in free agency. On Thursday, Biyombo publically gave his seal approval for the moves made.
“At the end of the day, the moves they made were needed for us,’’ Biyombo said of the roster changes. “We need more fighters and people who really understand and care about winning. I think they did that. We’ve got to build a winning culture and we’ve got to improve. I’m sure all of the players at the end of the season were disappointed, but you take that with you into the summer to improve and better yourself.’’
Biyombo admitted that the struggles and frustration of last season wore on him. He’s spent as much time reflecting on all that went wrong last season as he has on working on his game in preparation for this season. He said it will be up to the players on the Magic to practice what they preach in terms of wanting to do whatever it takes to win more games this season.
“From the get go we need everybody to be on the same page and understand what winning is about,’’ he stressed. “For us, we can talk as much as we want about experience, but at the end of the day it’s just about having fighters in the locker room and people who really want to fight and not people who will create this and that (divisiveness). I look forward to the season. I feel like I’m well prepared and that I’ve done enough.’’
Biyombo has certainly done enough for hundreds of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but assuredly that won’t slow his visions of hope and promise there. Soon, his sparkling, new school overlooking Lake Kivu will open and the Bismack Biyombo Basketball Stadium will be filled with sounds of bouncing basketballs, squeaking sneakers and laughter from children.
For Biyombo, the school, library, cultural center and basketball stadium are tangible signs to the kids of the DRC that hopes and dreams can come true. Also, they signify a Biyombo legacy that could live forever.
“It’s done and we’re going to officially open it on Sept. 4th. It was a work in progress,’’ he said proudly. “For us, it was more about providing a better education system for the kids that I can’t bring to the U.S. I’ve brought about 20 kids to the U.S. and I’ve given them scholarships. But at the end of the day, it’s not my goal to get everybody out of the Congo; it’s to find a way to build something that will allow them to live their dreams while being on their own.’’
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.