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Serge Ibaka’s Cross-Cultural Childhood Leads to Unmatched Motivation

Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Keith Allison courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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2018-2019 National Basketball Association (NBA) champion, Serge Ibaka, used his Cross Culture Kid (CCK) upbringing to form a relentless motivation to play professional basketball and become a champion.

Serge Ibaka dressed in all white uniform prepares to shoot a free throw at EuroBasket 2011.
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Augustas Didžgalvis courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What is A CCK?

Ruth Van Reken is a second-generation adult Third Culture Kid (TCK) who coined the term CCK. According to Ruth Van Reken and her website, CCKs are people who have lived or experienced two or more cultural environments in their developmental years (first 18 years of life). CCKs typically become more culturally mobile by interpreting several cultures, experiencing hidden diversity and visual diversity. Depending on CCKs experiences, they may also become an expatriate (expat) because they leave their native country to live elsewhere.

Serge Ibaka’s Childhood

On September 18th, 1989, Ibaka was born in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, as the youngest of 18 children. Ibaka’s family had a rich history in basketball. His mother played for the Democratic Republic of Congo and his father played with the Congolese national team. No doubt, being born into a family of basketball players inspired Ibaka to follow in his parents’ footsteps.

Serge Ibaka dressed in all white uniform is being guarded by defender at Eurobasket 2011
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Christopher Johnson courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Unfortunately, Ibaka’s mother passed away when he was eight years old and soon after, the Second Congo War began. These circumstances forced Ibaka and his family to leave their hometown and be raised by relatives. Ibaka spent three years living with his extended family until his family decided to return home as the Second Congo War came to an end. Upon their return, Ibaka’s father was imprisoned for a year, leaving Ibaka with no home or guidance. During his father’s year-long incarceration, Ibaka lived with his uncles and sometimes on the street until his grandmother eventually took him in. According to a City Life article written by Sarah Kanbar, while Ibaka lived on the street, he remembers being homeless without a bed, food or clean water. Through these experiences in the Republic of Congo, Ibaka found a ferocious motivation to succeed.

“If I didn’t wake up to go run, I wouldn’t be here right now. During those runs, while everyone else was sleeping, I knew I had to do something different from the rest to have a different future. People would make fun of me and tell me it was worthless. But in my mind, I always had a vision and a goal.”

Ibaka recalled in his City Life article interview.

According to the City Life article, Ibaka would wake up at 4 a.m. every day to run despite facing malnutrition, lack of electricity and even lack of shoes. Eventually, Ibaka found a basketball team in the Republic of Congo called Avenir du Rail, which helped him demonstrate his natural talent for basketball. In 2007, it landed him a position to play in Spain’s second division basketball for CB L’Hospitalet where he became an expat and began his CCK experiences.

Ibaka’s Professional Career

From living on the streets of the Republic of Congo to playing basketball in Spain, Ibaka experienced a massive culture change. According to an article written by Serge Ibaka, in Spain he prioritized two things, learning Spanish and working out every single day. Learning the native language was only the beginning of his CCK experiences in Spain. He began receiving treatment, unlike anything he had ever experienced before.

“Spain was completely different. It was all basketball. I got a strength coach, and I worked on fundamentals and my shot. In the mornings and afternoons, we had practice.”

Ibaka writes in his My Journey article.

In his article, he also mentions how he had never seen NBA basketball except in magazines he read in the Republic of Congo. People in Spain would most likely assume he had seen footage from the NBA because of his height and natural basketball player look, but this is an example of his hidden diversity that people don’t understand until they learn about his childhood experiences. In Spain, he was given access to satellite television and began to discover great NBA players and clips. Through his findings, Ibaka increased his motivation to play basketball at a professional level and began to understand the differences in Spain’s culture.

Serge Ibaka and James Harden high-five each other in their OKC warm-up suits.
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Keith Allison courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A year into his career in Spain, Ibaka attracted the attention of NBA scouts after winning an MVP award at the Reebok Eurocamp. By the 2008 NBA Draft, he became the first player from the Republic of Congo to be selected in the draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder agreed to keep Ibaka in Europe to gain more experience, but by 2009 he returned to the United States and began his NBA career. At this point, he was beginning to navigate the United States culture, only adding to his CCK portfolio. His NBA career has allowed him to play for teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors. Today, he has helped the 2018-2019 Toronto Raptors to win an NBA championship against the Golden State Warriors.

Ibaka’s career is symbolic of experiences CCKs have at a young age. No doubt, he has experienced visual and hidden diversity throughout his life since leaving the Republic of Congo. These common CCK situations have helped motivate him to become the best global citizen and professional basketball player he always dreamed of becoming.

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