PHOENIX — While the Phoenix Suns are thundering through an incredible season with hopes of returning to the NBA Finals, one player is competing for something far more important.
Bismack Biyombo, 29, announced on Friday that he would be using the entirety of his pay for the 2021-22 season to fund the construction of a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The goal in life is never to live forever, but to leave something that will live forever,” he said.
The journeyman center was at a crossroads in his playing career after the death of his father last August. François Biyombo suffered a bout with COVID-19 in July and never fully recovered.
He was just 61 when he died.
“My dad was my first believer,” Biyombo explained. “He spent his own money to allow me to follow my dreams.”
That dream became reality in 2011.
Biyombo, who comes from a family of nine in the impoverished nation of the Congo, was drafted seventh overall by the Sacramento Kings.
While never the most skilled player on the court, Biyombo established a lengthy and lucrative career across the league that nearly ended last year.
He became a free agent at the end of last season after finishing his 3-year contract with the Charlotte Hornets.
With the pain of his father’s loss still fresh, Biyombo took a break from playing but then decided to dedicate his NBA return to his memory.
“I had a desire to build him something,” he said.
But more than a month into the season passed and Biyombo still had no home in the league.
It took an ailing Suns roster hampered by injuries and COVID-19 protocols that gave the 6-foot-8, 255-pound center a chance.
He had 10 days to prove himself in Phoenix.
First came a solid debut against his former team. Biyombo scored 11 points on efficient shooting during a 133-99 blowout of the Hornets on Jan. 2.
Two days later, he terrorized the New Orleans Pelicans on both sides of the court with a flurry of dunks and emphatic blocks. Biyombo scored 16 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting while chipping in 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals.
Phoenix won 123-110. He was signed for the rest of the year shortly afterward.
His salary? More than $1.3 million.
For Biyombo, everything this season has been dedicated to his father. He wears number 18 close to his heart on his jersey - his father's birthdate.
Phoenix is the first team to clinch a playoff berth and owns the best record across the league by a wide margin.
Between Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee and Biyombo, head coach Monty Williams has a powerful trio of big men at his disposal to complement All-Star guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
The Suns are poised to make a deep postseason run, and Biyombo may be the team’s biggest X-Factor. No one is playing for more than him.
But regardless of the outcome, a new hospital will be built in the Congo, and it will bear the name François Biyombo.
“Hopefully he can save as many lives as we can,” he said. “I know he couldn’t be here, but I’m sure he’s happy on the other side.”
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