Orlando Magic’s Mo Bamba Gives Back to Africa Through Basketball — Andscape

There was a 7ft man eager to get off the plane when he landed in Ivory Coast at Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport last August. It had nothing to do with being an uncomfortable giant on a plane, or being airsick. On the contrary, the New Yorker was delighted that his dream of finally returning “home” to Ivory Coast in Africa is finally coming true.

“I was just like, ‘Yo, everyone here is black,'” Bamba told Andscape. “It’s the first time that I look around me and that I don’t feel like a minority. I felt a sense of security. You really feel that sense of belonging. I looked at my agent, Greer [Love], when I got off the plane and said, ‘Yeah, this is my home.’ ”

Through the Mo Bamba Foundation, Bamba unveiled a new basketball facility in August at the SOS Village of Abobo-Gare in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, about 10 miles from where his wife resides. extended family. The facility provides approximately 200 children with access to two basketball courts. The stadium bleachers and lighting are in the next phase of construction.

Bamba mainly credited Mahama Coulibaly, president of the Ivorian Basketball Federation, with carrying out the project. The Mo Bamba Foundation says it has also helped fully rehabilitate the electricity and plumbing throughout the village.

“I have known Mohamed’s father, Lancine, for a long time, and we have always dreamed that one day his son would return to Africa and inspire our Ivorian community,” said Mamadou Haidara, U.S. Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire. . “Whenever the Orlando Magic is in [Washington] DC, Mo made a special effort to visit me after the game to discuss ways to move this plan forward. We are very excited about the impact this will have both locally and nationally.

cheick haidara

Top photo: Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba poses for photos with children at the SOS Village of Abobo-Gare in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Bottom photo: An aerial view of two courts at the basketball center built by the Mo Bamba Foundation in Abidjan.

Cheick Haidara

Mohamed Bamba was born in New York on May 12, 1998 and grew up in Harlem where basketball is adored. His upbringing from his parents was more centered on Africa. Her father, Lancine Bamba, and her mother, Aminata Johnson, both immigrated to New York from the Ivory Coast. Mo Bamba also has grandparents from Mali.

The Bamba household always had African food such as kedjenou (slow-cooked chicken and vegetables), acheke (cassava side dish), alloco (plantains), fried fish, tomato soup, white rice and West African peanut stew. Mo Bamba said he used to be teased for being African during his youth, but eventually grew up to be very proud of his ethnicity and family history. He is also a Muslim, learning the religion from two devout Muslim parents.

“I was born and raised in Harlem, but we’ve always had this strong African background,” Bamba said. “We never strayed from who we really were as people. And my family was big. I was lucky enough to grow up with my mom and dad, but I have two brothers and three sisters. Two of my sisters i never knew them they were in mali but the rest of us were all in harlem and we grew up there and we ate african food we also ate american food So it was just a real assimilation of the two cultures.

“Your parents always tell you these stories, not necessarily folk tales, but they tell you these stories about your grandfather and your uncles and everything in Africa. So I thought that was pretty cool. But I don’t didn’t really embrace my African heritage until my mid-teens.

Mo Bamba also started playing basketball in Harlem when he was 6 years old and became a McDonald’s All-American in high school. The former University of Texas star was drafted by the Magic with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Injuries, depth at the forward position and slow development played a role in that he failed to live up to his top-flight selection. In his fourth NBA season, Bamba is averaging 8.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 38.4 percent shooting from 3 points in Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley believes Bamba is an integral part of the team.

“He’s playing well,” Mosley said. “He was a defensive presence not only in shot blocking and rim presence, but also in offensive rebounds and shooting the ball from 3.”

Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba (left) high-fives head coach Jamahl Mosley (right) as he walks off the field during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 27, 2022, at Orlando Amway Center.

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Basketball is growing steadily in Africa and Bamba hopes to make his mark there by promoting the sport there.

The Basketball Africa League will enter its third 12-team season with games in Senegal, Egypt and Rwanda in March. The NBA Academy Africa currently has one player playing for the G League Ignite in Babacar Sane. Former and current NBA players with ties to Africa like Dikembe Mutombo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Hakeem Olajuwon, Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam, Luol Deng, Gorgui Dieng, DeSagana Diop, Luc Mbah a Moute, Makhtar Ndiaye, Joakim Noah, Bismack Biyombo, Al-Farouq Aminu, Festus Ezeli and Serge Ibaka (as well as Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri) are among those making a big impact on African basketball.

Bamba can also be added to this list with his basketball gift to Ivory Coast that he has been dreaming of since his rookie season in the NBA.

“I want to give a lot of credit to Mahama Coulibaly,” Bamba said. “He was pretty much like down to earth there, helping us scout out the pitch, see what pitch would be best to do things on, who are the right people to get in touch with, build the pitch. , talking to the Minister of Construction, making sure we get the proper permits and everything. It was quite a process, but for the most part it was really smooth and very well received.

Bamba fondly remembers seeing around 500 people at the airport when he arrived. He marveled and felt beauty seeing so many dark-skinned Africans who looked like him and felt like “family”. After the crowds grew overwhelming, Bamba and his group, including his mother, quickly took transport to their nearby hotel for the night. Bamba was able to see his family members in Ivory Coast, who were mostly around 40 minutes from the airport.

Bamba and his mother, however, also longed to see his relatives on the maternal side of the family in neighboring Mali to the north. He hoped to fly relatives from Mali to Côte d’Ivoire. But it has become too difficult to obtain the necessary government documents to do so.

Several members of Bamba’s family in Mali rectified the situation by driving 20 hours to see him. Some came by motorbike. A deeply grateful Bamba has rented a mansion to house all of his family members for a week-long reunion much to his mother’s delight.

“My niece said, ‘Yes, when we crossed the border, we had to jump on the back of a motorcycle,'” said Mo Bamba. “And I was just like, ‘This would never fly in America. There’s no way…’ There was another group coming down later, but their trip was a lot easier than the other group. But everything went very well in the end. We have an Airbnb in the Ivory Coast.

“It was a huge house, everyone stayed there, and it was basically a huge vacation for my mom. But it wasn’t a vacation for me, far from it. We were probably all on time. two hours of the day.

Orlando center Magic Mo Bamba (fourth from left), pictured with Abidjan Governor Robert Beugré Mambé (fifth from left), and the president of the Ivorian Basketball Federation (FIBB ), Mahama Coulibaly (sixth from left).

Cheick Haidara

Bamba also spent this week meeting with several Ivorian dignitaries where he offered gifts and expressed his gratitude. He also collected more than 100 pairs of basketball shoes from his Magic teammates, many of them size 12 or larger for taller players, and 100 high-performance insoles from Move Insoles to donate to the development program of the Ivory Coast basketball. Bamba also led a COVID-19 vaccine awareness program alongside the former Haidara to encourage the community to get vaccinated.

But Bamba’s biggest long-term gift was the outdoor basketball court, which is near an orphanage and fenced for good reason.

“This yard needs fences all around, so the goats don’t come in and just migrate over it,” Bamba said.

Bamba’s next stop was Cairo, Egypt, where he was an advisor at Basketball Without Borders’ Africa camp from August 28-31. Bamba called Egypt “fun” with a “different vibe to the Middle East”. He also has an interest in playing for the Ivory Coast men’s national basketball team in the future.

Whether it was the children of Basketball Without Borders or the dedicated basketball court in Ivory Coast, they had a major impression on Bamba that will last a lifetime. He plans to return to Ivory Coast and other African countries for more memories in the future. Bamba also hopes to inspire more Americans to visit the African continent.

“People were like, ‘Oh, you’ve done so much for the children,'” Bamba said. “The children are really happy. You have invested so much in children. But what people forget is how much the kids poured into me. Every smile was so big. It was cheek to cheek, and I was just happy to see it.

“Staying connected means committing to trying to come back every year. I don’t know what time of summer I want to go back, but I really want to spend more time there. A week is not enough time there. Honestly, it’s also a very good place to vacation.”

Marc J. Spears is the Senior NBA Writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.

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