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5 NBA Players With African Roots

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama applauded the National Basketball Association for extending the league to Africa, a continent where basketball has grown exponentially in the last decade.

“There’s been a fantastic reception,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at the time of the launch.

What many may not know, though, us that a substantial number of African players are recruited into the league each year, and Demand Africa complied a list of African NBA players making an impact on and off the court.

RELATED: Barack Obama is Bringing Pro Basketball to Africa

Congo: Bismack Biyombo, Center, Charlotte Hornets

Now 26, Bismack Biyombo of Lubumbashi, Congo had to skip meals and play basketball barefooted because he only had one pair of shoes only to be worn to school. It was not until he turned 16 when he wore basketball shoes for the first time in Yemen, a country that offered promise to begin his professional career.

“For me, it was like, I can not fail,” Biyombo told SLAM Magazine, adding “Because if I fail, I’m going back to that life.”

An invitation to the 2011 Hoops Summit in the United States changed his life. He became the first player in the event’s history to record a triple-double: 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. He now plays for the Charlotte Hornets.

Mali: Cheick Diallo, Forward, New Orleans Pelicans

Cheick Diallo, 22, recalls developing a passion for soccer while growing up in Kayes, Mali, but that fervor waned when kids teased him of his height. “Let me try something new, and that was basketball,” said the six-foot, seven-inch power-forward in an NBA video released on YouTube.

Not long after, he caught the attention of a Malian basketball coach who talked him into moving to America to hone in on his skills, but the move came with a host of challenges, specifically not being able to speak English.

“I was depressed and I struggled like crazy,” Diallo recounted. Determined to succeed, he taught himself how to speak the language, which built a better rapport between him and his teammates. In 2015, he was named MVP of the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Boys Game.

The following year, the 22-year-old was the 33rd pick in the 2nd round of the 2016 NBA Draft, where he was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers. That same evening, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans where he currently plays.

Cameroon: Joel Embiid, Center, Philadelphia 76ers

Cameroon-born Joel Embiid’s intention was to play professional volleyball in Europe, but after developing a fascination with Nigerian NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, he began playing basketball and caught the attention of a sports camp that eventually landed him a trip to the United States. In the U.S., he led his high school team to a 33-4 record and state championship, and it was there that he began to gain traction.

After playing for the University of Kansas for just one year, Embiid was selected as the third overall pick for the 2014 NBA Draft. He signed to the Philadelphia 76ers and has been with the team ever since.

There is this saying among 76er fans that has become a staple in the city: “Trust the Process.” Many credit the saying to the team’s former general manager Sim Kinkie, who acquired the team a year before Embiid was signed.

“I really feel like I’m The Process, like The Process is about me,” Embiid told Sports Illustrated in 2016. “I think a lot about what I went through and how it prepared me to be a better man.”

Sudan: Luol Deng, Small Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves

When Luol Deng, 34, was young, he and his family were forced to flee war-torn South Sudan and emigrated to Egypt to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War.

“I don’t remember anything about my homeland,” Deng said in a 2012 interview. “I had to leave there with my mother and eight brothers and sisters when I was only three years old.”

Deng and his family were granted political asylum and relocated to London where he joined England’s 15-and-under team, signed up for the Brixton Basketball Club and was inducted into the London Youth Games Hall of Fame – all before the age of 13.

Shortly after, the accolades streamed in, and Deng moved to the United States and began playing basketball at a local high school in New Jersey. In 2003, he won an athletic scholarship at Duke University. A year later, the Phoenix Suns picked him seventh overall in the 2004 NBA Draft and he was immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls where he played for 10 years.

That same year, the six-foot, seven-inch power forward was drafted seventh overall by the Sacramento Kings before being traded to the Charlotte Bobcats that same year. After doing stints with the Toronto Raptors and signing a $72 million contract with the Orlando Magic, he returned back to the Bobcats in 2018.

He has since played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers and finally, the Minnesota Timberwolves where he is currently signed.

Congo: Serge Ibaka, Center, Toronto Raptors

Born in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo’s capital city, both of Serge Ibaka’s parents were basketball players. Basketball was an outlet for 29-year-old Ibaka, who grew up in the Central African nation during the height of a civil war. He quickly gained traction in the country when he began playing for an International Basketball Federation team in Congo before moving to Spain to continue his career.

In 2008, the Seattle SuperSonics recruited him as the 24th pick of the NBA Draft, making Ibaka the first Congolese player to be drafted into the league.

Oklahoma City Thunder acquired the SuperSonics six days after the draft, and he eventually became a starter in the Thunder’s rotation.

For the next eight years, Ibaka played with Oklahoma City until being traded to the Orlando Magic and then the Toronto Raptors, where he currently is signed as a power forward and center.

Written by Zaina Adamu

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