The Rise Of Serge Ibaka
City Life Magazine|April/May 2018

How Toronto Or Serge Ibaka Survived Poverty In Congo And Rose To Nba Stardom

Sarah Kanbar
City Life enjoyed an exciting evening when we visited the swanky hotel and residence One King West to meet one of the city's most celebrated athletes, Serge Ibaka of the Toronto Raptors, for an exclusive. We set up our cameras and our team of stylists in the hotel's impressive Fifteen Hundred penthouse suite. Upon the arrival of "Mr. Avec Classe," the first thing that struck us was Ibaka's grand stature, at 6-10, 235 pounds and 28 years of age. Behind his commanding presence and designer gear is a compelling story of survival and hope.

His story begins in Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo, in humble beginnings a world away from the fast-paced, glamorous life the NBA power forward now lives. Ibaka's childhood of poverty and struggle would be the driving force behind his relentless motivation to succeed. Ibaka has chilling memories of his youth, in circumstances so adverse that children like himself were experiencing malnutrition and had to sell water on the streets to support themselves and their families — but often it wasn't enough. Ibaka's harsh reality was one of scarcity, at one time being homeless without a bed, food or clean water.

But amidst the hardship, young Ibaka was aware of his talents and, moreover, of the opportunities his talent opened up for him. He made a vow to himself: "The way things are right now, I need to go play basketball abroad. Until there is nothing else I can do, I will never stop trying." 

It helped that basketball ran deep in Ibaka’s blood. Both his mother and his father played for national basketball teams — his father for the Republic of Congo, his mother for the  Democratic Republic of Congo. Like most parents who see potential in their children, Ibaka’s parents encouraged him to pursue his dreams from a young age.

“My father was a big inspiration because he was a basketball player, too. He was hard on me and pushed me a little bit, but he didn’t pressure me to play, as basketball runs in our family’s veins,” says Ibaka.

Basketball served a deeper purpose as not just a sport, but also an escape when Ibaka experienced a series of losses in his life. First came his mother’s untimely death, when Ibaka was eight years old. Soon after, the brewing civil unrest in the country boiled over into the bloody Second Congo War. The family fled the city for most of the war, but on their return to Brazzaville, Ibaka’s father was arrested for straying on the wrong side of the battlefield. During his father’s year-long imprisonment, Ibaka at first lived with uncles, but then was turned out to live on the street. Eventually, his grandmother took him in.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM CITY LIFE MAGAZINEView All

The Rise Of Serge Ibaka

How Toronto Or Serge Ibaka Survived Poverty In Congo And Rose To Nba Stardom

7 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

Two Causes, One Social Enterprise

Hawthorne Food & Drink is giving the underprivileged an opportunity to find gainful employment and give back to the community

4 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

Stairway To Graduation

Sheridan’s new campus in Mississauga, Ont., presents cutting-edge design-builds to inspire students and redefine traditional education architecture access to the entire campus

1 min read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

The Language Of Connection

Acro Buddhas Miranda Cobbett and Ryan Scott have increased their love and passion for each other through the meditative practice of acro yoga

3 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

A Blossoming Beauty Business

Fleurs de Villes founders, Tina Barkley and Karen Marshall, saw an opportunity to combine their passions of flowers, fashion and design into an international brand

7 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

In Good Company

Popular Canadian chef Corbin Tomaszeski shares with us his love of food and what it means to be a chef

7 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

Docking At Hudson' Bay

World-famous designer Brian Gluckstein speaks about his new position and regales with tales of design trends

5 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

Pristine Poppies

Natalie Dusome has revolutionized the handbag, presenting trendy, affordable options for today’s modern woman

3 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

Gianna Ugolini

City Life sits down with skin-care expert Gianna Ugolini to discuss beauty trends and the latest in advanced facials

2 mins read
City Life Magazine
April/May 2018

Real Estate Talk With Vivian Risi

For 20 years, Vivian Risi, president and CEO of Your Community Realty, has worked hard at building a successful career

3 mins read
City Life Magazine
February/March 2018
RELATED STORIES

NOTHING TO STOP YOU

WHEN PLANNING AN OCEAN PASSAGE, HOW DO YOU ENSURE YOU CAN KEEP GOING NO MATTER WHAT? RUPERT HOLMES FINDS OUT WHAT VENDÉE GLOBE SKIPPERS CAN TEACH US ABOUT MID-OCEAN REPAIRS

10+ mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

MATT SHEAHAN

WAS AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ‘BOT’ THE SECRET TO EMIRATES TEAM NEW ZEALAND’S AMERICA’S CUP SUCCESS?

3 mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

Gender equity drive in racing

As part of a remix for the coming season of the foiling SailGP series, each of the eight teams are to add one female athlete per team. Teams will be incentivised to include female athletes in rotation for ‘active roles’ and to include women in the sixth position, progressing to ‘practice and/or training in key roles’.

2 mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

Resurgence in round the world races

A clutch of ‘budget friendly’ new round the world races for sailor-owners has tapped into renewed enthusiasm for adventure and endurance sailing. All three new events are set to take off in 2023.

2 mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

Grenada to host ARC+ rally

A new destination is being introduced for the ARC+ rally in November that could bring the total number of yachts sailing across the Atlantic in rallies this winter to a record-breaking number of almost 400.

2 mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

Science while you sail

Cruisers can help improve scientific knowledge about the health of our oceans while going sailing.

1 min read
Yachting World
May 2021

SKIP NOVAK

GETTING INVOLVED IN THE HELICOPTER BOMBARDMENT OF A REMOTE ISLAND… ALL IN THE NAME OF A WAR AGAINST MICE

3 mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

DREAM MAKER

WHEN SURFING SUPERSTAR JOHN JOHN FLORENCE TOOK HIS GUNBOAT 48 ON A 2,500 MILE CRUISE TO REMOTE PACIFIC ISLANDS HE FOUND A THRIVING ECOSYSTEM THAT MAY GIVE US ALL CAUSE FOR HOPE.TOBY HODGES REPORTS

9 mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

THE DISRUPTORS

AFTER AN UNPREDICTABLE MATCH, EMIRATES TEAM NEW ZEALAND DEFENDED THE 36TH AMERICA’S CUP – AND COULD ALREADY BE SHAKING THINGS UP FOR THE 37TH. MATTHEW SHEAHAN REPORTS FROM AUCKLAND

7 mins read
Yachting World
May 2021

Bumper UK race fleets forecast

A bumper racing season in the UK is being predicted this summer as the easing of restrictions to social gatherings meets pent up appetite for competitive events. The largest is likely to be the Round the Island Race, which takes place on 3 July, followed by Cowes Week and the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, both of which could see boosted fleet numbers.

1 min read
Yachting World
May 2021