OKLAHOMA CITY—As the Oklahoma City Thunder aim for their first NBA championship in team history, star forward Serge Ibaka is adding more reason to elevate his performance. After donating $350,000 to orphanages from his home state of the Congo, Ibaka plans to donate an additional $500 for every shot he blocks during the 2014 playoffs.
On the court, he’s known for ruthlessly defending the basket and swatting shots as if they were mere tennis balls floating in the air. From hustling on offense to anchoring his team’s defense, Ibaka’s unselfish play is integral to the Thunder’s success. He and his team are currently fighting to advance in the NBA playoffs, but the 6-foot-10-inch, 245-pound gentle giant has had a history of fighting a different kind of battle off the court.
Ibaka’s humble beginnings from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have had a profound influence on his view of the world. He grew up in the city of Brazzaville with 10 siblings and often faced challenging circumstances.
“I lost my mom when I was 7 years old and I had to be separated from my dad for long periods as a child,” Ibaka said. But his childhood kept getting tougher from there.
Just before Ibaka’s ninth birthday, his country faced political strife during the Second Congo War—the largest modern war in African history. He and his family were forced to flee northward to the small town of Ouesso. Ibaka was forced to live there for four years while having no access to electricity or running water. Upon his return to Brazzaville, his father, Desire Ibaka, was captured and imprisoned. Serge was forced to be away from his father for a year until he was released with the end of the war.
Ibaka’s experiences as a child have served as the foundation for his humanitarian efforts. “I know how hard it is for those kids in the streets, how they live, what they need, so that is why I want to work with UNICEF to do the best I can to help them,” he said. Ibaka recently received the April Kia Community Assist Award from the NBA for his efforts with UNICEF.
During the season, Ibaka averaged 2.7 blocks per game as one of the league’s premier shot blockers. So far he has recorded 18 blocks in the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies and hopes to expand his total as the Thunder move forward toward their goal of a championship.
Sources: Bleacher Report, Look to the Stars, NBA, News OK 1, News OK 2
Photo: Star Tribune