"Africa is the Future": How Bismack Biyombo is using basketball to change the outlook of a continent

Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns - Game Three
Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns - Game Three

During the 2021-2022 season, NBA center Bismack Biyombo donated his entire salary to build a hospital back home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The hospital is in honor of his late father, Francois, who passed away in August 2021.

To many, this may seem like an extreme gesture but anyone who knows the 12-year NBA veteran—or quite frankly spends just minutes in his orbit—knows that the extensive level of compassion Bismack carries for others is deeply rooted in his nature.

At 19-years-old, just days after the end of his rookie season, the Lumbashi native had the next generation at the forefront of his mind. He started the Bismack Biyombo Foundation in 2012, to provide opportunities to Congolese children in the areas of health, education, and sport.

The foundation awards 185 annual academic scholarships within the DRC and the U.S., donates equipment to renovate hospitals, and has refurbished several courts that host Biyombo's camps across the country. Additionally, the foundation has provided jobs and stability to countless Congolese civilians.

Bismack, who recently cohosted a “Dope Africans” dinner organized to help facilitate economic development in Africa, currently serves as a Vice President of the NBA Players Association. The Memphis Grizzlies' center credits his late father for teaching him the importance of generosity at a young age.

RELATED: How “Dope Africans” Massah David and Miatta Johnson are creating global change through African culture

Francois Biyombo allowed Bismack to dream, making a deal with him at 16 that enabled him to leave home and pursue basketball professionally in Yemen. That decision led Biyombo to the NBA, ultimately changing the course of the Biyombo family's livelihood, and in turn the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bismack Biyombo opens up about his father's influence, the impact of his foundation, his desire to change the narrative about Africa, and the legacy he wants to leave behind in the conversation below.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bismack, I know that you recently lost your father, my condolences to you and your family. I read an article where you talked about your dad being everything to you and about the blueprint to life that he's ingrained in you. Giving back is so important to you, can you talk about how that blueprint plays into your mission?

Bismack Biyombo: It goes back to when I was a kid. You know when somebody's implementing a vision in your head without really telling you? That's how I would put it.

My dad transformed me into the person I am today. Not only do I feel grateful to have made it to the NBA but he taught me to remember where I'm from. That's really where my desire of wanting to serve came from. I understand the struggle of what it's like to grow up back [in the Congo].

Seeing that need for change and being able to say I want to be part of making [the Congo] have a better future, comes from him.

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Bismack Biyombo 6.JPG

You talked about your father's generosity and the way he would invite people over to your home growing up to eat, even though there were days that your family didn't have enough. When you think of that blueprint, what other memories come to mind?

Biyombo: A lot of things happened in my childhood that were learning lessons to help me change the environment for kids growing up today. There were so many [things that I missed out on] but I'm grateful for that because without them I wouldn't have the character I have today. Without the [lessons] I learned from my parents, I would not be the man I am today.

There were the difficulties of just going to school and the environment you were studying in...having things like shoes, I never had a brand new pair of shoes—shoes that nobody has ever worn before— until I was 16.

When I look at my childhood, all the way until I made it made it to the NBA, leaving home [at 16] was part of that sacrifice and I've carried all of these things into my journey. Missing that part was crucial because now I have the opportunity to give what I never had.

We didn't have a lot of food, so what can I do to make sure kids have enough food today? We didn't have clothes, so how can we create an environment so kids can have clothes and brand new shoes? How do we create an environment where these kids can be kids?

My dream was to start helping back home. I wanted kids to be able to go to schools that are as nice as the schools in America. I wanted to give them the opportunity to dream while still staying close to their loved ones.

I just wanted to have another person that came from where I'm from, playing in the NBA. Now one of the kids from one of my first [basketball] camps Oscar Tshiebwe, who played at Kentucky, has signed with Indiana on a two-way contract.

At one point in my life, I prayed to God for things like this to happen and now they are happening. Looking back, a lot of the things I've been through are worth it. The journey has been so interesting and it's shaped my way of seeing life.

You talk about wanting kids to have the ability to dream. When you look back to your childhood, the first time you picked up a basketball and you had a dream, did you ever imagine that you'd end up this far?

Biyombo: At first it was just a game, then at some point I thought "I think I can make something out of this game." But the reality of it is that when you grow up in Africa, [your] difficulties start giving you determination. You're determined to make things work.

That's why I made a deal with my dad when I was 15 turning 16. I asked him to just give me a chance to leave the country and go try to be a pro. I knew that if I could make this work we would all be fine.

Fast forward to now, God has done some of the most unbelievable things in my life. When I went to Yemen, my hope was just to be a professional athlete and then I realized I could make it to the NBA. God has put so many people in my journey that have allowed me to reach those goals and he continues to do so. I'm always grateful for my journey.

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Bismack B.jpg

You mentioned wanting to see more players come out of Congo. For people that aren't from there, or aren't from Africa in general, what's the narrative that you want people to know about African people?

Biyombo: When you look at it from the perspective of talent, we've got the youngest and fastest growing continent. Look at Africa, not just as the land of opportunity, but look at Africa as the future. When you look at Africans, we represent something.

My desire, is to look back a few years from now and say we've changed the narrative.

When I first got here it was difficult for me to explain to people that I'm African but now people have somewhat accepted the idea of Africans also being successful—of Africans being somebody. That is something that I felt like I was still trying to prove when I [first] got to the NBA, but it's not anymore. Now if you're in an NBA arena, you can hear African music and there's so much that Africans are doing.

Everyone has had their time to develop, but this is our time and we have to take ownership of that. One of the things I wish and desire for us Africans, is to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out how we can put our differences aside and work together for the beauty of our continent. It's often difficult just to be able to say Africans are working together. Some are doing it but how can we as a whole, get together and make our common mission to improve this beautiful continent of ours?

Once we do that we can speed things up in a different way and hopefully look back in the next 5 or 10 years at all that we've done.

Going back to your question, yes, there's a way that we want the world to look at us but we must first ask ourselves and take ownership of how we want others to see us. If they can say "these people are united," then that's the Africa I would love to see.

I love that. You teach people how to treat you and see you so I agree with that wholeheartedly. You said the goal in life is never to live forever but to leave something behind forever. What do you want to leave behind that will live forever?

Biyombo: I want to transform the whole generation. We have built infrastructure in schools and hospitals, and we'll continue to do so, but transforming the whole idea of a generation has become my mission now. Before I die, I want to be able to say we've changed the entire outlook of a generation—their belief system. I want to be able to say that we've created a platform. Something where potential can be fulfilled so young talent can have enough support to actually flourish.

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bismack Biyombo 2.JPG
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Bismack Biyombo 3.JPG
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Bismack Biyombo 4.JPG
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Bismack Biyombo 5.JPG

You have such a bright future ahead. What are your personal goals for this upcoming season on and off the court?

Biyombo: To win a championship honestly. That's always been my goal and until that happens we'll continue to strive for that.

Off the court, I want to build another school. I'm working on it. I want to create better opportunities for our youth back home. It's always nice to be able to say we have done something, but we must continue to do it. The more we do, the more opportunities we can create. The goal is to do more.

I want to be able to figure out ways that we can continue to work and build a better platform for our brothers and sisters, and continue to promote gender equality. The world that we're living in is so male dominant. Obviously things are changing, but I have three beautiful young sisters and I would love to see them have their own place in this world where they can stand and speak for themselves.

Africa is different. We have a different mentality, but it is also our job to transform people's mentality and allow women to be women, and have power, and contribute to the growth of our society.

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Bismack Biyombo 7.JPG

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