Bismack Biyombo Sumba (born August 28, 1992) is a Congolese professional basketball player who currently plays for the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He was born in Lubumbashi, was discovered by the current Portuguese national team head coach, Mário Palma, at the age of 16 at a youth tournament in Yemen. His play impressed the coach and earned him an opportunity to train in Spain.
Below are excerpts from his recent interview with Soledad O’Brien:
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Bismack Biyombo comes ashore on the banks of Lake Kivu like a jolly lean giant, young, handsome, 6’9”. He is 22 years old, a center in the NBA who towers above this village of coffee growers. And that is not where the contrast ends. Just hours earlier, Biyombo signed a two-year $6 million contract to play basketball for the Toronto Raptors.
BISMACK BIYOMBO: Done. I’m a Raptor.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Signing right here in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world.
BISMACK BIYOMBO: I grew up here. I dreamed one day about being in the NBA. And the process that I have been through to be able to make it, and then come back here and sign it from here is just — it’s that feeling that I can’t explain.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Why do you come back to Congo?
BISMACK BIYOMBO: I love the people. I love the potential of this place. And I think we have a bright future.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Biyombo is of the Congo, perhaps even a metaphor for what it might be. He was born in Lubumbashi on the southeast end of the country. What was your childhood like in Lubumbashi?
BISMACK BIYOMBO: Like, we were eating once a day.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: One meal a day?
BISMACK BIYOMBO: One meal a day, because you cannot afford. But I’m actually glad of those things happen to me.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Really? Why?
BISMACK BIYOMBO: Because it teaches me. That’s what helped me to come back here and help.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Like Congo, he was rich with potential, but low on prospects. He was discovered by a Portuguese coach and played in Spain before being drafted to the NBA.
BISMACK BIYOMBO: Every time I think about the way I got to the NBA, it is a motivation to myself, and I’m thankful for it.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Biyombo is traveling with the Eastern Congo Initiative, ECI, the brainchild of actor Ben Affleck, which focuses in the area around Goma, a place scarred by volcanoes, overrun by refugees, and repeatedly, for the last two decades, at war over its rich minerals.
BISMACK BIYOMBO: It’s good to see people trying to help us put it together. But more than anything, it’s that I believe in human resources.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: ECI showed Biyombo an example of those resources in these hills. That means that successful Congolese like Biyombo must do more than just encourage business.
What does hope come in the form of? Is that, hey, you just got a big contract; you are going to write some seriously big checks? Is it, you’re going to come and visit? What is — describe specifically what hope looks like.
BISMACK BIYOMBO: Well, to me is to be able to establish companies that will create jobs, give people jobs, establish schools, that kids will be able to go and get an education, and then establish farms where people actually can eat, because, if you don’t eat, you cannot work.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: To fill those jobs, Congo needs a well-trained work force. Here, young people learn new skills, like carpentry, auto repair, and plumbing. This young woman told Biyombo she wants to be a mechanic.
BISMACK BIYOMBO: What she said to me was touching, because she said that, I wanted to do mechanic, because it’s not just a man’s job, and I don’t want people to think this is just a man’s job.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: For Biyombo, this is a very different Congo than the one he left. Goma, where the program runs, was in the crossfire of a civil war just two years ago. The population was on the run from violence. Now people are dropping their arms and picking up tools.
Jobs aren’t all this community needs to prosper. They need to get along. Biyombo also came here to run a basketball clinic.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo also known as DR Congo, DRC, DROC, RDC, Congo-Kinshasa, or simply Congo is a country located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world. With a population of over 75 million, it is the most populated officially Francophone country, the 4th most populated nation in Africa and the 19th most populated country in the world.
The country is extremely rich in natural resources, but political instability, a lack of infrastructure, centuries of both commercial and colonial extraction and exploitation have limited holistic development. Besides the capital, Kinshasa, the other major cities, Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi, are both mining communities. DR Congo’s largest export is raw minerals, with China accepting over 50% of DRC’s exports in 2012.
This full interview appears here originally captioned NBA’s Bismack Biyombo goes home to Congo to help.