It had been 16 years since Emmanuel Mudiay went back to his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So he’s soaked these last few weeks up. It has been a time to reconnect, to recharge, and at the end of it all, participate in NBA Africa Game 2017, on Saturday, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“It definitely was emotional,” said Mudiay in a conference call on Thursday morning from South Africa. “I just kept asking myself, what would I have been if I had stayed?”
Of course, that was not an option. When they were young, Mudiay – who was five years old — and his brothers were brought to the United States, fleeing the war-torn country as their mother sought a safer life for her boys. She never let them forget where they were from, continually telling them stories and doing her best to keep in touch with relatives that never left.
It meant when the family returned to the DRC in July, things felt familiar, even if they were different so many years later.
“It’s different when you show up and you see it with your own eyes and you’re physically there,” Mudiay said. “It’s definitely different, but at the same time it’s not like I ever forgot what situation that I was in at a young age. That’s what made me who I am today just as far as the struggle and all of that.”
“Now, you just appreciate what you have, because there’s a lot of good people here in Africa and they are not as blessed,” Mudiay said. “It just makes me want to do more for the continent for the future. That’s the main thing as well.”
Among the many things Mudiay has done while he’s been in Africa was to see his grandfather, “who I haven’t seen in a long time so it was pretty cool,” Mudiay said. “It was definitely life-changing in a way, but it makes you just appreciate where you come from.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who is also in Johannesburg to coach camps among other things connected to the NBA Africa Game, could immediately see the profound impact being back in Africa was having on his young point guard.
“I think it was a great homecoming for Emmanuel and his whole family, to come back to where they were from, his roots,” Malone said. “He’s very proud of that, and he should be.”
Malone, meanwhile, jumped at the invitation to participate. He said he was first offered a chance a few years ago when he was coaching the Kings, but he was fired. When the Nuggets were in London last season, the NBA approached Malone again about being part of the NBA Africa Game week of events.
He said he’d love to be a part of it.
“The reason why is simple,” he said. “One, I love the game of basketball. I have a tremendous passion for the game of basketball. And I have a tremendous passion to teach the game of basketball. To be a part of a special group of coaches and players and front office executives coming over here to teach the game to these young boys and girls is something I wanted to be a part of.
“The second thing is, the game of basketball has been very good to me and my family. This was a chance to see a part of the world that I’ve never seen, and experienced… and to soak up their culture and their history. And to teach the game and be part of something much bigger than myself, it was an easy decision for me to come over here. It was an easier decision to bring my wife and two daughters because I wanted them to experience it as well.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter