Serge Ibaka is one of the biggest superstars of the NBA. But away from basketball, and his team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Serge Ibaka is a real African man with a story
This year, I was invited to join him in Oklahoma for the Ibaka Foundation Dinner Gala at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in its fourth year of running. This was an exciting opportunity to get up close and personal with the foundation’s work and Ibaka the man.
After watching Serge at work at the Oklahoma Thunder training centre, we headed over to his home to get ready for the gala. He was obviously excited. He walked out of his bedroom wearing his new line of clothing Avecclasse – which is Serge’s exclusive range of men’s shirts that has never been seen before.
All I could say was ‘Wow… that looks amazing.’ That’s because it did and I couldn’t even hold it in. It was simple, classy, stylish and sexy attire that would make all men look like Serge Ibaka and, of course, the ladies would love that. I did. He looked hot in the shirt. Guys, GET ONE.
I joined Ibaka in his car, a Hummer, as he talked about the foundation and his amazement at achieving so much with the support of the Oklahoma community.
‘The first time I had this gala dinner, we had 100 people. They could easily fit in my front room. The second year, we had 300 people and today, I am expecting 700 people who are going to come and help me raise funds for the work we are doing in Africa. I am so excited. I can only thank God for this.’
With UNICEF, Ibaka works to help young people without a family to improve their living conditions and get educated.
Over the years, the Ibaka Foundation has partnered with established organisations and charities to support and inspire change in areas such as children’s health, education and nutrition. This has seen Ibaka and his foundation team travelling every summer across Africa. They have worked with the Starkey Foundation, which supplies hearing aids, and led to Ibaka fitting hearing aids to allow young people to hear for the first time.
Other charity work includes partnering with the Sewing Hope Foundation Store with the inspirational Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe – a Catholic nun who has dedicated her life to helping girls formerly held captive by warlord Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda by teaching them how to sew but also giving them the self-confidence to start again.
With UNICEF, Ibaka works to help young people without a family to improve their living conditions and get educated. On top of all this, Ibaka is also committed to working with charities in Oklahoma that support single mothers in the city. This is something he is extremely passionate about because he lost his mother at the age of seven and was brought up by his father.
We met the following day at his home. After joking around about his personal life and plans for the summer in London with him and his team, I asked him what it was like to become a full-time father himself. His daughter Renee moved from the Congo to join him in Oklahoma on a full-time basis last year.
A fashionable, talented, funny, big-hearted, intelligent, softly spoken gentleman, he’s passionate about change for its own sake.
‘It’s a beautiful thing now. It’s like knowing something you really love. Loving friends and loving your son or daughter is extremely different. It is something beautiful. It makes me think differently and it has really helped me to grow because when you have a 10-year-old daughter, you have to. It’s a beautiful thing. I feel blessed.’
Ibaka is walking the walk and talking the talk with his commitment to helping others. This is not for show or to raise his profile. A fashionable, talented, funny, big-hearted, intelligent, softly spoken gentleman, he’s passionate about change for its own sake. After a successful evening at the gala with stars, his teammates in attendance and a lot of money being raised, with the inspirational and influential giving speeches, Ibaka got up on stage to remind us:
‘I appreciate everyone’s help and contribution. You are not doing this for Serge Ibaka but you are doing it for all those kids out there.’
To find out more about the foundation, please visit sergeibakafoundation.com