The National Basketball Association tipped off its 2010-2011 season with a record 84 international players from 38 countries and territories. The only player from Congo-Brazzaville is Serge Ibaka, a second-year power forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ibaka was born in the capital, Brazzaville, one of 18 children in a very large basketball-playing family. His father played for Congo-Brazzaville’s national basketball team, while his mother played for the national basketball team in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produced eight-time NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo.
At six feet, 10 inches (2.08 meters), Ibaka isn’t quite as tall as Mutombo, but he has more quickness and offensive talent. Check out this flying, one-handed dunk against the Minnesota Timberwolves, with the announcer giving “Air Congo” his clearance to take off:
Through 22 games, Ibaka is averaging 10.5 points per game for the Thunder, and 6.5 rebounds. That’s an improvement over his rookie season numbers of about six points and five rebounds a game. Like Mutombo, Ibaka is also an excellent shot blocker. He’s currently averaging more than two blocked shots each game, which puts him among the league leaders.
Last year, the 21-year-old Ibaka became the youngest player in NBA history to have seven blocks in a playoff game, and he did it against the Los Angeles Lakers, who wound up winning their second consecutive league title.
Ibaka says he will continue to work on improving his offensive skills. I’m sure he’s getting a few tips from Oklahoma City teammate Kevin Durant, who is only a year older than Ibaka and who last year became the youngest scoring champion in NBA history. With young talent like Durant and Ibaka, the Thunder could be storming their way to the top of the NBA very soon.