Growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bismac Biombo dreamed of playing professional basketball in the United States. His dream has come true since joining the NBA more than a decade ago. But what he is doing outside the court has helped his country significantly.
The 29-year-old center for Arizona’s Phoenix Suns calls himself an “Africa kid” who “stepped onto the basketball court at age 13 in Lubumbashi,” a major city in southeastern DRC. “And I was lucky enough to have, you know, parents who supported me,” he told VOA in an interview at the Sun’s practice facility earlier this spring.
Biyombo credits his father François Beyombo and mother François Ngoy for nurturing a sense of purpose and generosity. He made sacrifices to ensure that the eldest of his seven children could play basketball, which he went on to try out for a local team in Yemen at the age of 16, and later when he joined a club league in Spain. was involved in. After Byombo was drafted into the NBA in 2011, he encouraged her to give back.
with him. Bismac Byombo has donated time and millions of dollars to support education and health care in the DRC, largely through the self-named foundation he started in Florida in 2017. (Before joining the Phoenix Suns for the 2021–22 season, he played with the Orlando Magic – also in Florida – as well as the Charlotte Hornets in North Carolina and the Toronto Raptors in Canada.)
Byombo heavily funded the Kivu International School opened in Goma in 2017. “Each year, we award more than 150 scholarships within the DRC and the US,” he said in a video clip posted on the foundation’s website. The foundation has brought more than 60 DRC students to the United States to study, he told VOA. Byombo also hosts free basketball camps every summer in DRC, equipping youth with new skills, athletic shoes, and other gear.
“My job is to inspire children in the Congo and make sure we give equal opportunities to all of them,” he said in a VOA interview.
Byombo’s foundation has supported the upgrade of Congo’s mobile clinics and public health facilities. It also provided hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of health care equipment, including face masks and hazmat suits, to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the DRC.
“And now we’ve set big goals and we’re going for it,” Byombo said.
This includes the construction of a Lubumbashi hospital in honor of his father, who died last August at the age of 61 due to complications from COVID-19. Byombo announced earlier this year that he would donate his salary – $1.3 million, according to his foundation’s website – to that mission for the 2021-2022 season.
“I want my father to build a hospital that will continue to serve the people, because he believed in one man, which is who I am,” Byombo said. “And now we do it for him.”
Such human gestures are right out of the playbook of retired NBA great Dikembe Mutombo, a Congolese player who, Byombo said, is “like a big brother.”
Mutombo, who hung up his jersey in 2009 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame six years later, started a foundation in 1997 to help people, particularly in his native DRC. Projects on that foundation include the construction of the Biyamba Marie Mutambo Hospital in her hometown of Kinshasa.
Dr. Joseph Nsambi Bulanda, Health Minister of Haut Katanga Province, where Lubumbashi is located, told VOA that his government appreciated Byombo’s offer of a new hospital. Construction hasn’t started yet.
“We can give them some advice,” Nasambi said, adding that his government’s goal “is to improve and give a very good health system to all the people of all Congolese and Haut Katanga province.”
Nasambi said of Byombo, “He is a man of very good will.” He said the public health system in his country – one of the poorest in the world – welcomes an aid. “We need people. We need organizations.”
Byombo’s generosity has earned him accolades. TIME named him on its list of leaders of the next generation for 2021. The NBA and health care provider Kaiser Permanente awarded him this year with a “Community Care” award — and a $10,000 check to his foundation — for his efforts to aid the DRC.
The athlete wants others to benefit from basketball just as he has.
“So many young African American leaders [are] Coming to the NBA now that I think Africa has a great future,” Byombo said. He also talked about the partnership of the Basketball Africa League, the NBA and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).
“The reality of the league,” said Byombo, “is that I think a lot of these kids are really given the opportunity to be at home” and still be rich in sports.
“You know, most kids want to find a way out of what’s happening in Africa,” he said. “And you have to give them a reason to stay. I think that’s the one thing that drove me to invest so much in the younger generation. … The more tools we give to the next generation, the more those problems become.” will be able to solve the problems we are dealing with today.
“There is an opportunity to make an impact,” Byombo said. “And I don’t want to ruin it.”
Eddie Isango of VOA Lingala Services contributed to this report.