“This is my life,” Serge Ibaka repeated into a microphone. Over and over again this phrase left the Thunder forward’s lips as he leaned over a podium in front of 500 generous Oklahomans on Saturday.
At the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City, Ibaka, in a full tuxedo, stood 7,663 miles away from both his hometown of Brazzaville, Congo, and the people whom he hoped to aid on that night. For the third consecutive year, Ibaka hosted the Pros for Africa Gala, which raises money for his Serge Ibaka Foundation’s efforts in the Congo and for Sister Rosemary’s Girls, an organization that aids young women in Africa.
In the first year of the event, about 150 people were in attendance. The next year that number rose and this year, it jumped once again to 500 members of the local community. The gala is already building a reputation and has become a yearly tradition for Oklahomans, Ibaka and Thunder players and staff, who showed up to support their teammate. Amazed by the love and support, personally and financially, shown by those in the area, Ibaka was emotional and passionate in his address to the crowd.
“I never thought that one day I would have an event like this in Oklahoma,” Ibaka said. “The people in Oklahoma are so nice to trust me, believe in me and to come here and help these kids. I thank God and these people here for everything they’re doing. It’s life-changing. I just feel like I’m the messenger.”
Through both a silent and live auction, the Pros for Africa event raised over $300,000 and for good reason. Videos showing the conditions in Brazzaville and Ibaka’s efforts to help the deafness epidemic in the Congo were extremely moving and showed just how crucial Ibaka’s generosity is to the area. The proceeds of the gala will be implemented in a variety of ways, but to Ibaka, the ability to help children and adults hear for the very first time in their lives is perhaps the most poignant.
“That day I almost cried,” Ibaka said, reminiscing about his trip to the Congo this past summer, when he helped children install their new hearing aids alongside the Starkey Foundation. “It was miraculous.”
With that experience in mind, Ibaka’s meaning with that phrase, “this is my life”, comes into clearer focus. His job right now is to play as hard as he can for the Thunder every night, but giving back to the children in his hometown of Brazzaville is his true purpose in life. In Ibaka’s mind, making the lives of underprivileged Congolese kids better is the reason he was placed on this earth. After his playing career in the NBA is done, it will be his philanthropic efforts that live on and serve as his passion for the rest of his days.
“One day I’m going to be 40 and stop playing basketball,” Ibaka said. “But I want to keep doing this until my last day.”
Written by Nick Gallo I Thunder basketball writer