Serge Ibaka Overcomes Strife in Homeland to Reach NBA Finals


Many neutral basketball fans have become temporary Oklahoma City Thunder fans this month to cheer against the “evil empire” of the Miami Heat and their lineup of all-star players.

Oklahoma City has the support of casual fans because of their team atmosphere, incredible athleticism and likeable star players, one of which is Republic of Congo native Serge Ibaka. He has become a favorite in the U.S. because of his energy and shot-blocking abilities, but less than ten years ago, Ibaka was fighting just to survive the ripple effects of the Second Congo War.

In the 1980’s, Ibaka’s mother was a member of the women’s national basketball team of the Democratic Republic of Congo, while his father played for the men’s Republic of Congo team. Ibaka was born in Brazzaville, Congo, just five miles across the Congo River from Kinshasa, DRC.

Ibaka’s childhood was filled with chaos: at age eight, his mother died unexpectedly, followed by the start of the Second Congo War less than a year later. Millions of Ibaka’s countrymen fled their homes, and Ibaka’s father was wrongfully imprisoned after crossing the DRC border to work at a port in Kinshasa.

At age 16, a local club basketball team coached by former teammates of Ibaka’s father invited Serge to play. His skills developed there, and he was recruited to play professionally in France and Spain after dominating the 2006 age 18 & Under African Championships.

After adjusting to the language and culture, Ibaka’s game took off, and NBA scouts began to take notice. Oklahoma City selected him in the 2008 draft as a raw talent, but Ibaka has developed into a skilled defender, as well as a solid threat on offense.

A success story like Ibaka’s should be celebrated by the adoption community, not as a glorification of basketball talent, but rather as an example of the healing and success that can take place after tragic beginnings. In that way, watching Ibaka excel on the court is encouraging.

On another note, his story is a sobering reminder of how much talent and life has been choked out by the poverty and conflict in Africa. Ibaka is the exception. The rule states that his opportunity should have been ended by war or squelched by other circumstances and never discovered or developed in the first place.

I can’t help but wonder how much other creative brilliance remains anonymous. We’ll never know how many writers, artists, musicians, athletes, and social contributors from Central Africa have been just as gifted and willing, but were unable to pursue their calling.

To learn more about Congo Adoption click here.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.