Labissiere plans to venture back to Haiti soon, to set up basketball camps, connect with philanthropists, and potentially start an academy. The prospect of returning for the first time in years fills him with excitement: spending time with his sister, embracing the friends he’s kept in touch with, reconciling the Haiti of his memories with the unrecognizably altered one that he left. “He has a strong affection in his heart for trying to help kids [in Haiti],” says his agent, Travis King, of Independent Sports & Entertainment. “To give them the opportunity he had to get off the island and excel in the States in high school and college.”
Then the earthquake struck. A wall collapsed on Labissiere’s back, and forced him into a crouch that would make his legs go numb for weeks. Underneath the rubble, he couldn’t see a thing. He couldn’t move. The only hint of the outside world were screams: cries for help from families, friends, a whole community of voices outside, pleading for familiar voices to respond. Labissiere and his family, trapped inside, were screaming only for recognition, signaling for anyone at all who could hear them to help. Labissiere did this, too, until the moment came when he stopped believing help would arrive. “After 30 minutes or so, I just physically gave up,” he says. There’s no point in trying to scream, he remembers thinking. Nobody’s gonna hear us. Stuck in that crouch, Labissiere’s faith numbed with his legs. He pictured the end—of his dreams of basketball and the future, and of his life. He assumed that his father, nowhere in sight, was already gone.
Labissiere: “That’s when my dad came on top of the rubble and yelled my mom’s name out,” Labissiere says. “[It] definitely opens your eyes about life. Before that, me and my little brother complained about things that we didn’t have. After that experience, we were way more thankful for life. You see how quickly things can change, whether it’s from good to bad or bad to good.”
Skal Labissiere: It was my dad. When he found us, he grabbed a barbell from the weight bench that was outside and started jabbing it into the wall to break up the concrete and free me and my brother. Then my dad and a couple of other guys from the neighborhood got on top of the rubble and started digging us out. As they were digging, I remember the first thing I said to my dad: “You promised me I was going to reach the NBA …” For some reason, for those three hours, that was one of the things at the top of my mind. Maybe it was because making it to the NBA was a dream that I thought I suddenly wasn’t going to be able to reach …
Skal Labissiere: I was the first one they pulled out. I couldn’t walk — I could barely move. The guys who were helping my dad carried me into the street where there was less debris, pulling me by my armpits with my dead legs dragging behind me. Then they pulled my mom and brother out, wiped the blood from my mom’s face, and wrapped my brother’s foot up and brought them out into the street with me. Everybody in the neighborhood who was still alive or trying to stay alive started gathering in the street. The entire block had been destroyed. There wasn’t a single house left standing. By that time it was starting to get dark, and people went digging through the rubble for blankets and pillows. Then they would walk down the street and give whatever they had to whoever needed it.
And Dalembert, who lost a cousin and several close friends in the disaster, is trying to do all he can. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Dalembert, through his eponymous foundation, donated about $650,000 and established a foundation for relief efforts in Haiti. “You looked at the country,” Dalembert said at the time. “You felt like it was Armageddon. It was devastating.” More than five years later, Dalembert is still doing what he can to negate that devastation.
Dalembert, who was waived by the Knicks in January, also sees untapped potential in his homeland. The 34-year-old believes Haiti is a land filled with under-utilized resources, such as coffee, which, when tapped, can create jobs and improve lives. While he works out to prepare for his next NBA opportunity, Dalembert also spends time looking into how he can help make that happen. “The country just needs a little TLC,” Dalembert says, his words filled with passion. “I just want to be able to look in the mirror and say I did all I can.”