With Support of Teammates, Ibaka Helps Raise Money for Africa
It’s nearly 8,000 miles and almost 20 hours of flying time from Oklahoma City to Serge Ibaka’s hometown of Brazzaville, Congo.
Despite that distance, Ibaka and his teammates Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha were able to make an impact in Africa on Wednesday night. By joining Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe and the Pros-for-Africa foundation, Ibaka and Governor Mary Fallin helped raise thousands of dollars for service work in countries throughout the African continent at an event at the Governor’s Mansion. For Ibaka, it was an easy decision to join up and help the cause.
“I’m originally from Africa and they came to me to ask if I want to collaborate with them to come help, and of course for me it’s like a dream to do it,” Ibaka said. “It just means that here in Oklahoma they have really great people and big hearts to help… Good people were here. It was so amazing, I really enjoyed it.”
There was a dinner emceed by Fox Sports Oklahoma’s Nancy Lieberman and was also attended by pro football players like Tommie Harris and Johnny Knox. The personality that stole the show, however, was Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a Ugandan Nun who for the last 30 years has led the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus based in Juba, South Sudan. Despite violent civil wars in the region, Nyirumbe defied Joseph Kony and rebel soldiers, enrolling 2,000 young women who had been abducted or abandoned.
Her vivacious personality was enthralling for all in attendance, even surprise guests Westbrook, Durant and Sefolosha, who showed up simply to support Ibaka and find out more about a great cause.
“She’s great,” Westbrook said. “A great story and a wonderful lady. It was the first time seeing her or hearing her story. It’s amazing… Probably one of the most amazing women and stories I’ve heard. Just a great heart and she wants to help people.”
For all the kind words the Thunder players had to say about Sister Rosemary, the brave and humble nun had even stronger praise for the athletes who are taking her mission so seriously. Her connection with Ibaka has grown over the past few months since Ibaka began doing more to help people in Africa who are in need. This summer Ibaka and other athletes plan to take a trip to Africa to help Nyirumbe follow through on more of her goals to help others.
“I call them my uncles,” Nyirumbe said of Ibaka and the athletes involved in Pros for Africa. “I love them. They are my good friends. Really, when I see them coming in, it’s a sign of new life coming into the organization… It’s a sign of new life going to our people.”
The dinner and event was ended with a live auction that featured a number of donated Thunder items, from signed game-worn shoes to jerseys to artwork. Where the event took an amazing turn, however, was when Ibaka and Durant began adding new items to the auction – in the form of their time. Both players pledged to host a basketball camp and a dinner, which helped raise thousands of dollars, and left Pros for Africa Co-Founder Bill Horn at a loss for words.
“Really I’m kind of speechless,” Horn said. “We knew that everyone in Oklahoma loves the Thunder, and tonight what we experienced, we know why. The support that Serge got from his teammates tonight was just incredible. To see them come together for such an important cause and do what they did has left me speechless.”
Ibaka was seated at the front table next to the podium where Lieberman, Horn and Nyirumbe spoke, then all of the sudden his Thunder teammates began trickling into the banquet room. It was quite the scene as Durant came and joined Ibaka, and Westbrook and Sefolosha found seats amidst the auction bidders. While everyone in attendance may have been surprised by the incredible showing by his teammates, Ibaka was equal parts grateful and confident that he would have support from his Thunder mates.
“They’re my teammates, my brothers,” Ibaka said. “That’s normal. For me it was no surprise. It meant a lot.”
Whether it’s on or off the court, Thunder players always have one another’s backs. It was no different on Wednesday night as the quartet joined together and showed a united front not only for their teammate Ibaka’s event, but for a deserving and noteworthy cause. Over the years it has been evident that the Thunder’s players and the organization love helping the Oklahoma City community, and also want to make an impact on an even more far-reaching scale.
“We’re brothers and we all support each other no matter what we do,” Durant said. “It’s good to see our team here supporting Serge. It’s such a great cause and we’re not just here just for the event. I think we’re all going to try to help as much as we can. That’s the best part about our team.”