With the high profile life of an NBA player, one would never guess at the struggles, trials and hardships it took to get there. Serge Ibaka put that into perspective for the world by shooting a 5-episode feature film covering one of his annual trips back to his beloved country, the Republic of Congo. The film is the first feature-length documentary produced by Grantland, an ESPN-owned site and directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Adam Hootnick.
In the film, which has been a lifelong dream of Ibaka’s, we get to see a colliding of two world’s unfold. The war-torn country of his birth has not changed much and as he trudges through the streets, he mentions how he grew up in very similar conditions. We are taken back to his house where he even identifies the bed he slept in. His grandmother Mémé Titi recounts how he grew up with her when his own mother passed away and his father was detained in a Kinshasa prison simply for being in DRC where he worked at a port. The debilitating conditions he grew up in; no electricity, water, food and high rent are what most Congolese in his hometown of Brazaville are still going through. It is his mission to change this.
On his trip, Ibaka does some volunteer work with the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa, the city his mother was born in. After training, Ibaka helped fit deaf and hearing-impaired children with new hearing aids in conjunction with the U.S. based Starkey Hearing Foundation. After the exercise, he says he feels that all his achievements in the NBA are nothing compared to the tangible differences he makes in people’s lives through his volunteer work.
“Dreaming is free,” says Ibaka. He wants the children to see that just like them, he grew up in tough conditions but with passion, hard work and a resilient attitude, he was able to do the ‘impossible’. The 6’10 basketballer encourages growth in his community by going further to not only hand out money but also have discussions with the locals on how to utilize that money to the fullest.
During the film, we learn about Raine, Serge’s 7 year old daughter who lives in Brazaville. She was conceived with a former girlfriend but born when Serge was already out of the country, pursuing his dreams. In order to protect his young son, Ibaka’s father kept the crucial information of Raine’s birth from his son only informing him about it two years ago. Though Ibaka was incensed by his father’s secrecy, it is clear that the bond between father and daughter is as strong as can be. “Let’s take a selfie,” Ibaka tells Raine. Ibaka clearly treasures his daughter and is making preparations for her to move in with him in the U.S.
To crown his visit, Ibaka launched the remodelling of the basketball court his mother and father played in and where he himself learned how to play, Avenir du Rail. During the opening ceremony he met young aspiring basketball players and gave them a message of hope and encouragement, “Never let anyone tell you that you cannot make it,” he emphasized.
The movie stirs something in the human heart. It is not a regular ‘rags to riches’ tale but rather an example of overcoming hardships to reach our goals, come what may. Ibaka’s message to young people is simple; stay focused, keep dreaming and with these two crucial ingredients, everything is possible.
To see the documentary, click here
Photo credits: Internet