Several months after the unexpected death of his father, Francois, Bismack Biyombo joined the Phoenix Suns with two goals in mind: Use his salary to help build a hospital in his dad’s honor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and win an NBA championship.
Biyombo explained why he decided to donate his salary, why he believes the Suns can win the championship, what he and the NBPA are working towards in the next CBA deal, and more in an interview with HoopsHype.
Editorial note: This interview has been condensed for clarity.
What was your dad’s impact on your NBA journey and your life in general?
Bismack Biyombo: On my NBA journey, he was my first believer. He put up his own money for me to chase my dream. He saw something in me. He supported me along the way. When I went to Yemen and then Spain, the day I got drafted, I remember when I finished with the podium, and my ex-agent called and put him on the phone. He had no words. He was crying for quite some time. He gave me a lifetime opportunity that I’ll always be grateful for.
As far as my life, having a human being like him taught me a lot about helping people. I grew up in an environment where my dad was always helping people. Even when we didn’t have much, he tried to share the little that we had. As the firstborn, I was observing and asking questions about why he was helping people when we didn’t have enough. His approach was always that you could share what you have as long as you know you’re doing the right thing.
Over the course of years, we worked a lot together with my foundation. He was overviewing all the work we did on the ground back home. He was more than my dad. He was my business partner and friend.
Why did you specifically decide to build a hospital in your dad’s honor in the Congo?
BB: In the Congo, there is one doctor for every 10,000 people. Initially, when I went home, we were refurbishing clinics and hospitals with new equipment. When my dad got sick, I got home and saw the conditions it was in. It was alarming to me. I started thinking in the back of my mind that he doesn’t have the best chance to make it. We started bringing in doctors and different equipment. Some of the local doctors didn’t know how to use the new equipment. This became a problem.
When I went to the hospital every day, there were so many people and beds going empty every day with new people coming in. I asked myself, in my mind, “I have the means to do this for my dad, but how about these other people?” There were people that were just there hopeless. At that moment, there wasn’t much I could do for these people.
Once my dad passed away, I came back and was dealing with my emotions and got discouraged from doing things like playing basketball. I realized if my dad was alive, he’d never let me walk away from something I love, which is playing basketball. Then, I went back and forth, trying to find something to motivate me to play for something bigger than just being in the league. That’s when I told my agent in November and said I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually ready to play, but I wanted to take my salary and direct it to the construction of a hospital. The only way I’d play is if it was a winning team because I want to be able to win something this year.
My dad and I went through a journey, and I had some doubts trying to figure out how to get to the NBA. I made it to the NBA. He enjoyed watching me and sending me messages before my games in the early morning back home. I had to give him something and build him something.
I’ve always said, “The goal isn’t to live forever, but to leave something that will live forever.” All these ideas that he had, I’m still going to accomplish all of those ideas, but I want to build him something that will allow people to continue to celebrate him and appreciate him because he had a dream, believed in his kids and spent his own money.
Once my dad passed, I realized that we think we have so much time to live on Earth, but we don’t. I’m trying to squeeze all this time I have to make sure that the day God calls me, I’d have made an impact and left this world a better place than I found it.
How is the hospital construction coming along and the schools your foundation is building in the Congo?
BB: We are under construction for our second school. Our first school has been up and running for three years. We’ve built five or so outdoor courts. In our first school, we have the first indoor facility in the Congo. We have academies we run every summer with basketball camps. We provide scholarships for kids to come here to the U.S. and go to schools. Some of the kids are in college playing basketball.
In two weeks, they’ll be finishing the rendering of the hospital. The hospital will be mainly focused on an ICU, emergency room, and newborns. By going about it this way, it’s where we think with the doctors that we can have an immediate impact in our community. There hasn’t been a breaking ground yet. I will do that when I go home this summer. I want to be able to do that myself because when I came up with the idea of donating my salary for the hospital’s construction, I was in Miami working out. I haven’t been home since the passing of my dad. Hopefully, this summer, when I win a championship, I can be able to go back home and break the ground of the hospital.
What’s it been like playing with Chris Paul and what are the title chances for the Suns?
BB: When I got with the team, and when I was starting, the numbers spoke for themselves. He facilitates the game so well and makes it easy. When you have a desire to win, and you walk into a room, you can feel the energy of how much of a winner he is. It changes your whole approach to the game and preparation. CP3, I know him a little bit from working with the player’s union. Playing alongside him, you can tell how smart he is and how much he reads the game. He always talks to guys and the coaches about what he sees. It’s a blessing to play with him.
We have a chance (to win a title). With all these pieces James has added to the team, it’s to make sure when the playoffs start, we’re well equipped. I think we have a better chance than a lot of people to win a title.
Us not having CP3 now is helping us grow in other areas and challenging the coaches to grow in other areas. By the time the playoffs get here, everybody will be well prepared. I really think we have a great opportunity this year. We’ve competed with everybody and show up every night to play hard and let people know we’re going for it.
How did your playoffs with the Raptors change your life?
BB: You can either run away from the big moments or embrace them. I think I’ve embraced each and every big moment I’ve had in my life and career. I was nobody before I showed up to the Nike Hoop Summit. I wasn’t even supposed to play. I landed from a 12-hour flight and understood it was the game that would allow me to be an NBA player and achieve this dream my dad and I were chasing.
I walked into the gym and never saw so many cameras before. I could tell in people’s faces who would show up and who wasn’t going to show up. This was my moment. My back was up against the wall. Now, people are doubting whether you can do it or not and if you belong at this level.
In my mind, I wasn’t going there to have fun. I was going there to make sure I punished whoever I played against. I went there to make a statement. When I was in Toronto, it was kind of a similar situation. I was having a great year, but when the playoffs happened, it was the big moment. Who was going to get it done and be a hero? I wasn’t an All-Star on that team, and we had people who had far more responsibility and had more pressure than me.
When I came here to Phoenix, I was supposed to come and work out for them and sign. Then, JaVale McGee and Deandre Ayton got into health and safety protocols. They called my agent and said they didn’t have time to work me out. They gave me a 10-day (contract) to see how in shape I was and how I’d fit in. I wasn’t coming here for 10 days. I came here to make a statement.
What does your role as NBPA Executive Committee VP entail?
BB: You have to be elected by players, which I’m grateful for. It shows the amount of respect you get among the other guys you compete with every day… As far as the work we do, we overview most of the deals that come through. We’re always trying to figure out ways to better the league nationally and internationally. We have a collective bargaining agreement to negotiate. We have to approve all the deals our union is signing. We work on the Think450 program, which we put in place. During Covid, we were on a lot of calls. The whole idea was to get the league back up and running.
It’s our job to pay forward to the next generation so that when they get here or take over, the conditions are good, and they can do it for the next generation.
What changes would you like to see for the NBA in the new CBA?
BB: I think the first phone call we’ll be having on the CBA is happening soon. I think it’s just checking in and seeing how we can move forward. Now, it’s so difficult to say I’d like to see this or that happen. The reality at this point is I understand as a player and a businessman that certain decisions will be made because of the environment we’re in and because of what’s ahead of us. The way the league is moving, it’s always how we can move the league forward.
I’m hopeful that we don’t go into the same situation other leagues have gone through (MLB). We always have a good relationship between the players, owners, and the league. My only hope is for us not to go into a lockout. My rookie year, when I came in, there was a CBA transition happening or negotiations. When I got drafted, a lockout happened. For six months, I didn’t play basketball.
As a player and part of the NBPA, what are your thoughts on journalists returning to the locker room?
BB: I can’t lie, I miss those days. I really miss those days when the game is over, and you get in the shower and have an interaction with the reporters, so you get dressed faster. Now, a lot of things are more virtual. I’m hopeful as we’re all educating ourselves better with the virus, we’re learning better ways to deal with it. I’m really hoping at some point we can go back to interacting with the reporters. Over the years, I’ve built so many relationships with many reporters. Now, you can only hear their name on a Zoom. You don’t get to see their faces and the physical and in-person interactions aren’t the same through Zoom. I really hope that as we continue to educate ourselves and find the proper way to maneuver around this, hopefully soon, we can have reporters coming to the locker rooms and being around players. I think through that, we have had some great reports, and reporters get firsthand postgame emotions from the players in real-time. I also understand there was a pandemic, and now we’re moving in the right direction, and things are getting back to normal. I’m hoping we can continue to trend this way so we can have our lives back.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto