Star African to watch: Serge Ibaka

One of Africa’s top sporting sons, basketball player Serge Ibaka continues to grace the 2019-20 National Basketball Association (NBA) season.

Ibaka hails from Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo, where his basketball-playing parents encouraged him to take up the sport.

At the age of 17, he moved to France and then Spain, where his skills in the sport made scouts sit up and take notice.

In the 2008 NBA Draft he was the 24th overall pick, signed by the Seattle SuperSonics – who soon rebranded to the Oklahoma City Thunder – and after a year away at Spanish side Ricoh Manresa (where he had a rolling option to be brought to the NBA) he moved to the United States and quickly became a key player for the Thunder.

Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (L) looks to pass the ball around defending Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk (R) during the second quarter of the NBA basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida, USA, 03 August 2020. The NBA season has restarted at the Walt Disney World sports complex outside Orlando, Florida. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER SHUTTERSTOCK OUT

Ibaka proved a brilliant player for Oklahoma City from 2009 to 2016 (and he featured for EuroLeague team Real Madrid during the 2011 NBA Lockout) before being traded to the Orlando Magic, while 2017 brought another trade when he ended up at the Toronto Raptors.

It was with the Canadian team that Ibaka won his first NBA Championship, leading the Raptors to victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 Finals.

epa05621662 Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (R) watches as Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (C) shoots over Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (L) in the first half of their NBA game at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, USA, 07 November 2016. EPA/TANNEN MAURY

The 30-year-old’s career achievements include being a three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, the blocks leader in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and a silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games with Spain, his national team (having been granted citizenship in 2011).

As of now, Ibaka’s focus is on helping the Raptors put up a strong defence of their NBA title, though he has also become a key figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, eloquently expressing the ways in which the issue, as experienced in the United States, is translated to the world at large, and especially in his home continent of Africa.

“This is one thing I want people to understand: What is going on in the United States is what is going on everywhere. In the States, you can see what is happening directly, how police [are] killing somebody. But in Congo, in Africa, in all the countries in Europe, it’s happening too, in different ways. The fight we’re fighting here is bigger than the fight people are thinking [about] because if we can win this fight here, we’re going to change a lot of things around the world. When we go immigrate out there, they don’t want us [African people] to be there. They treat us like nothing. … They think we don’t deserve respect. They don’t respect us.” Ibaka remarked.

That’s why Ibaka, who has become a quiet warrior for social justice and equality, wears the words “Respectez Biso” meaning “Respect Us” on his jersey.

epa07952379 Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (L) shoots on Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (R) during the NBA basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, USA, 26 October 2019. EPA/TANNEN MAURY SHUTTERSTOCK OUT

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