Serge Ibaka was born in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, on September 18th, 1989, to a family with strong ties to sports and basketball. Serge is the son of two basketball players: his mom, Amadou Djonga, played with the national team of the Democratic Republic of Congo and his dad, Desiree Ibaka -- also a member of the National Team -- played professionally. Basketball is definitely in his genes, and Serge started to play with a basketball from a very early age, spontaneously, trying to emulate his parent’s and his older friend’s skills.
Childhood in a civil war affected country was not easy but Serge, who had to overcome difficult moments such as his mom’s passing and war related conflicts, always kept his basketball passion alive, and from a very young age dreamed of becoming a professional player and of being able to help his huge family of 17 brothers and sisters.
At 16 years old he started playing organized basketball with Avenir du Rail, his neighborhood team, and he started to establish the foundations of his game with coach Maxim Mbochi. He quickly became one of the most interesting players of his country, and was called to take part in the Junior National Team from Congo that was going to compete in the junior African Championship in Durban. Serge was named MVP after finishing as the top scorer and rebounder in the tournament. That same year, Avenir du Rail loaned him to Inter Club, a senior team. Still a junior player, he played with Inter the senior National Championship of Africa, and was named best center and was the best rebounder.
Serge had become one of the best prospects in Africa but never stopped thinking about getting better, progressing and playing at the highest possible level. And he did. After a short stay in France and a long bureaucratic period, he headed to Spain to start his career. On March 19, 2007, Serge arrived at Hospitalet (Barcelona) and joined the junior team of the city club. His impact was immediate, and the team won the state junior Championship of Catalunya and classified for the Spanish tournament. From that moment on he wasn’t a secret outside of Africa anymore.
That summer he was invited to the adidas Nations basketball camp in New Orleans as part of the African team. It was his first trip to the USA and he took advantage of it: he was the best player on his team and one of the best in the whole camp, which gathers the best young players in the world. After a summer of hard work and dedication, Serge joined the senior team of C.B.Hospitalet that competed in the Spanish second division, the LEB Gold. As the youngest foreign player in the league, at 18 years old, he finished the season with averages of 11,8 points, 8,3 rebounds and 3,1 blocks per game (best in the league in blocks).
During the season many NBA scouts visited him and saw him live and in April he took part in the prestigious Hoop Summit in Portland, an under 19 game, playing for the international team that played against the USA (he had 8 points and 8 rebounds in the game). In June, he attended the Eurocamp in Treviso, where he convinced everyone of his potential and was again named MVP. His name was already on almost every NBA team’s agenda, so he decided to make himself eligible for the NBA Draft. On June 24th, 2008, he was chosen with the 24th overall pick by the Seattle SuperSonics.
But Serge decided to keep developing and growing as a player in Spain and signed with Ricoh Manresa of the ACB League, becoming the youngest foreign player to ever play in the league. His first season in Europe’s best league ended with averages of 7,1 points, 5,5 rebounds and 1 block in 16 minutes per game. After a season in the ACB, he decided to make the leap to the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 2009-2010 season was Serge Ibaka’s first season in the world’s best league. During the regular season, he earned a spot on the interior rotation of the Thunder, and played 18,1 minutes per game in 73 games and making an impact on the team’s first round matchup against the Lakers in the Playoffs.
In his second season in the NBA he earned a spot in the Thunder’s starting five in mid season and finished the season with a total of 198 blocks, more than any other player in the league. In the Playoffs, he helped the Thunder arrive to the Conference Finals for the first time in their history. On that same season, Serge participated in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest at the NBA All Star Weekend in Los Angeles, another childhood dream come true. In the summer of 2011, he received the Spanish citizenship and he played with the Spanish national team in the 2011 European Championships and the 2012 London Olympics, winning the gold and silver medals respectively.
On October of 2011, during the NBA lockout, he signed a two month contract with Real Madrid in Spain. When the NBA came back to action, he returned to the USA and joined the Thunder for his third NBA season. Then established as the starting power forward and as a key part of the team’s defense, he helped the Thunder achieve the league’s third best record. His block totals earned him a spot in the NBA’s best defensive team for the first time in his career. In the playoffs, Serge was a key part of the Thunder again, and they reached the NBA Finals for the first time in history.
In the summer of 2012, he signed a four year extension with the Thunder and travelled back to his home country to celebrate. His journey back to his roots
inspired him to keep working to become the best player possible.
The 2012-2013 season saw the Thunder become the best team in the Western Conference and Serge contributed to a 60 win season and he finished as the leading shot blocker in the NBA for the third straight year.
Serge Ibaka’s journey from Congo to the NBA was fast-paced and intense. It was a path built on passion for the game of basketball, marked by the ambition to achieve his dreams. Only five years had passed from the start of his journey in Africa when he played his first NBA game. He arrived to the world’s best league to stay, with the goal to get better every day and grow as a player season by season. Off the court, his goals are to stay true to his roots and to serve as an inspiration for the African youth that fell in love with basketball the way he did and that are willing to use sports as a powerful tool for social change.