NBA Star Serge Ibaka Is Raising Health Awareness On and Off the Court
Ibaka is known for more than his dominant defensive skills.
When NBA star Serge Ibaka was 17, he left his hometown of Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo to follow his basketball dreams.
Unbeknownst to him, the teenager was leaving behind his firstborn child. His father, Desire Ibaka, took responsibility for helping to raise the little girl and, wanting his son to pursue his career without pressure, didn’t reveal that she existed until she was already 5 years old.
“I was young when I found out,” Ibaka told The Undefeated. “I was shocked a little bit … I didn’t know what to do, what to say or how to react. And I was like, OK, I’m a dad now. But a couple of days I start feeling better and … it was something I used to dream about always. I want to have kids, and now I want to have more."
Ibaka and his daughter, Ranie, weren’t fully united until a couple of years ago. Now 12 years old, Ranie lives with her dad, and she's inspired him to help change the world.
“I’m still young and having a little girl, and they just make you see a lot of things differently,” he said in the interview. “The way you do things because you’ve got a daughter, and they really make you a better man. I love that.”
Through various initiatives, Ibaka has connected with Congolese youth and has managed to spread awareness about the issues in his native country. His foundation focuses on promoting education, health, and nutrition.
Alongside NBA Cares and UNICEF, he has provided resources like dairy products as well as community support through basketball in the Congo. He was also elected to the board of directors of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation.
Ibaka founded his organization with the hope of encouraging all children to believe that anything is possible — because he himself overcame great odds.
Ibaka started playing basketball when he was just 7 years old. By 16, he had joined a local team called Avenir du Rail, and he was invited to compete at the 2006 U18 African Championships in Durban, South Africa. There, he earned the MVP tournament title.
After that, a Spanish agent with U1st Sports reached out. He played briefly in France, and then moved to Spain to continue working his way up in the basketball world.
By June 2008, NBA scouts were impressed — Ibaka would become the 24th overall selection in the 2008 NBA Draft.
The player joined the Oklahoma City Thunder in the summer of 2009, where he would play until 2016. He played a short spell with the Orlando Magic from 2016 to 2017, and became a key player for the Toronto Raptors in 2017.
“When I got to the NBA I started thinking I needed to help other kids,” he told ET Canada. “I needed to give opportunities to other kids in the Congo, not only to play basketball, but to have a better life and have a motivation, have hope. I wanted to use my story to motivate the youth of Congo and Africa. I came from nowhere and I made it.”
This month, the 28-year-old travelled through the Republic of the Congo, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he visited an orphanage and facilitated a basketball camp, too.
The 6-foot-10 basketball player attended Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, New York, last September. On stage, he spoke about the work he’s done in the Congo with his organization and the need to raise awareness around global health issues.
As an ambassador for health, Ibaka also teamed up with Global Citizen to put on an event in Toronto in February to raise awareness about his foundation and to help promote Global Citizen.
"It was a great opportunity to get involved with an organization that is trying to change the world," Ibaka told ET Canada about working with Global Citizen. "It was very motivating for me to be part of a movement that is inspiring so many people to take action on very important issues."
The 2018 Global Citizen Festival in New York will be presented for the very first time by Citi. MSNBC and Comcast NBCUniversal will air a live simulcast of the Festival on MSNBC and MSNBC.com. The Festival will also be livestreamed on YouTube and Twitter, presented by Johnson & Johnson.
Proud partners of the 2018 Global Citizen Festival include Global Citizen’s global health partner and major partner Johnson & Johnson, and major partners P&G, CHIME FOR CHANGE Founded by Gucci, Verizon, House of Mandela, iHeartMedia, and NYC Parks. Associate partners include Microsoft, Great Big Story, and One Championship.