After finishing a workout on a recent April afternoon, Bismack Biyombo stepped outside of his Charlotte-area home and received a surprising text from his father, Francois. “Congrats, you just had your first set of twins,” the message read.
“My first set of twins?” a puzzled Biyombo wrote back.
As his father relayed more information, Biyombo felt not only relief, but also a great sense of pride.
In recent years, the Hornets forward has made it his mission to provide affordable health care access to those in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo. His foundation has refurbished one of the largest hospitals in Kinshasa, the DRC’s capital city, and a hospital in his hometown of Lubumbashi. It has also deployed a mobile clinic in the rural, eastern city of Goma. The “first set of twins” his father referred to was two twin boys, Vincent and Vainqueur, who were born in the mobile clinic that Biyombo established. His father, who still lives in the DRC, later forwarded his son messages from the doctors thanking the 27-year-old for his efforts in the country. He waited a week before sharing the news on social media as the magnitude of the birth sunk in. “Who would have ever thought,” Biyombo says.
“The more I can succeed in basketball, the more I can do for others. That is my motivation to get up and work harder.”
Biyombo’s tireless efforts to better the Congo have been intertwined with his professional career. When he was selected No. 7 in the 2011 NBA draft, some people around him told the 6’8’’ forward to carve out a stable role in the league before helping those in his homeland. They said he was too young to make a difference. But why wait? Biyombo thought to himself. What impact would waiting have on the current generation of children growing up in the DRC who might have to walk to school, like he did, or lack proper athletic footwear, like he did, or skip occasional meals, like he did.
“Every time I see struggle, [or] I see problems,” Biyombo says, “I see an opportunity to do something about it.”
Biyombo’s contributions are already vast. He has built schools in three cities, providing economical options to students across the country. He’s refurbished basketball courts, including constructing the country’s first covered court—an extra special accomplishment for Biyombo, who remembers running off his local outdoor surface during rain showers and returning to a muddy court. He’s also undertaken the aforementioned large-scale medical renovations.
Every summer since he entered the NBA, he’s returned to the Congo with a new project in mind. In July of 2015, he happened to be in the Congo when he agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with the Raptors. He signed his contract, gave it to his manager and promptly went back to service work. “You’re crazy,” those around him said that day. “But I just find joy in helping people. It gives me some kind of energy,” he says.
Biyombo’s latest initiative comes at a time of great need. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, his foundation has donated more around $1 million in supplies to hospitals and clinics, in the form of 10,000 face masks, 780 hazmat suits and medical beds, among other equipment.
As of Monday morning, there are more than 680 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the DRC causing at least 34 deaths, according to The New York Times. Those numbers, though, likely tell an incomplete story due to the country’s testing limitations. While the DRC’s government issued an at-home order to its more than 84 million people population, Biyombo estimates that more than 70% of its populace is jobless or lives on daily paychecks. As a result, few can afford to wait idly at home. The country, he notes, is not poor in a macro-sense as it has an abundance of natural resources. It does, however, have an impoverished population, one that is familiar with health emergencies, having recently been in the throes of the Ebola crisis.
Still, he is buoyant.
“This is who he is through and through,” says Biyombo’s close friend Brandon Adcock. “He knows he can make a difference for other people through sport or access to health care or schooling. He feels a sense of obligation to do that.”
Growing up in the DRC, Biyombo didn’t fall into the traps that other African players have recently fallen into. At 16, he played professional basketball in Yemen then moved to Europe where he quickly became an impact player in Spain’s ACB League. His first-ever trip to the United State was for the April 2011 Nike Hoops Summit game in Portland, which pits the top American high school seniors against the top International players of the corresponding age. He rose to the occasion—as he has come to do so often, both on and off the court—recording the first triple-double in the event’s history. He was drafted just months later.
Biyombo’s drastic life decisions at a young age helped him mature. “He’s a bit of an old soul,” Adcock says. The two struck up a friendship when the forward moved to Charlotte in 2011 as Adcock was neighbors with former Hornets big man Boris Diaw. “Biz is a hard guy not to like,” explains the 36-year-old Adcock, who serves as board member of Biyombo’s foundation and runs a company that manufactures and sells vitamins and supplements. “He has an infectious personality and is super optimistic about everything.”
Biyombo doesn’t want to squander the opportunity he’s earned. As an example, those who know him well speak to his diligence in the weight room and focus on nutrition. Adcock says the nine-year NBA veteran is always working on a diet of some kind. He often requests food substitutions or orders unlisted items at restaurants. “All he eats is plants. Plants and fruits,” his teammate Cody Zeller adds. “I’m like, How do you have enough energy to play in games. But he’s crazy strong.”
In the midst of the global health crisis, he has more mouths to feed at home. Biyombo is the oldest of seven siblings, with each of his three brothers and three sisters also having first names that start with “B-I.” While his siblings, who range in age from 15-to-25 are normally all scattered across the United States, the Hornets forward has brought them all to Charlotte. “He’s got a huge heart,” Zeller says.
In Adcock’s mind, Biyombo’s trips to the Congo can sometimes be overwhelming. But the 27-year-old forward is seldom fazed by the environments in his homeland. “He’s never seen an obstacle that he didn’t think he could overcome,” his friend says.
While Biyombo’s annual trip might be canceled this summer, he’s in constant communication with those in the DRC as he looks to help the country to the best of his ability.
“If I can work this hard for my life, for my career to be better, then I can put this much energy into helping those in the Congo,” Biyombo says. “We’re gonna keep putting out our effort and coming up with solutions. And I think we’re gonna get there.”