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Bismack Biyombo will leave Charlotte with fine, fun legacy

The Charlotte Hornets told Bismack Biyombo (center) on Monday that they wouldn’t make him a qualifying offer, which makes him an unrestricted free agent.
The Charlotte Hornets told Bismack Biyombo (center) on Monday that they wouldn’t make him a qualifying offer, which makes him an unrestricted free agent. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Bismack Biyombo is only 22. But it’s tough to remember Charlotte’s NBA team without him. For four seasons, he’s rebounded and blocked shots and run the court. For four seasons, he’s tried.

Next season he’ll try for another team. The Charlotte Hornets will not extend a qualifying offer, and on Wednesday Biyombo will become a free agent.

Biyombo, whom Charlotte selected with the 7th pick in the 2011 draft, is 6-9. He grew up a soccer player in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that might explain why he’s never had good hands. His offense is limited. Last season he averaged 19.4 minutes, 6.4 rebounds, 4.8 points and 1.5 blocks.

Yet he has moments, and when he does, you pull for him. He gets excited the way kids do. There’s no guile, no subterfuge, no pretense. The only time I remember seeing him angry was when he talked about the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

“People are so stupid,” Biyombo said. “They run in front of the bull and the bull is chasing them and they die every time and they go back again.” He smacked the Time Warner Cable Arena table in front of him for emphasis.

Five months ago it was San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich who talked as if he wanted to smack something. The Spurs had beaten the Hornets 98-93, but Biyombo made it close. He regularly changed the trajectory of San Antonio’s shots and was as good as any player on the court.

His line: 29 minutes, 15 rebounds, 12 points, 5 blocks and, after the game, a career-high 9 reporters around his locker. Popovich ripped his players for continuing to challenge Biyombo.

He played professionally in Yemen and Spain before he came to Charlotte. The more he saw of the world, the more he wanted to see. He spoke five languages. And he spoke them to everybody.

On a night last season in which the temperatures dropped to below freezing Biyombo encountered a man on a Chicago sidewalk huddled beneath a blanket. Biyombo, in town for a game against the Bulls, bent down and talked to the man and invited him to dinner. The man said a restaurant wouldn’t let him in; the four coats he wore were dirty, and he said he smelled bad.

Biyombo told him they’d find a restaurant. They went to a mall and they did. Security guards approached more than once. Yes we’re together, Biyombo told them, and yes I am going to pay. They had a great conversation, Biyombo would say later.

Where Biyombo grew up the conversation did not include NASCAR. But his brother Billy had a NASCAR video game, and when Biyombo played he would be Jimmie Johnson.

When his second season in Charlotte ended, Biyombo asked the team when the race was. What race? “The big one with the cars that go around,” he said.

The closest he had come to the sport was a video game on the other side of the world. And now the Sprint All-Star Race was 15 miles away, and you think there was any chance he would not take advantage of it?

“I will enjoy it,” Biyombo said. “I enjoy everything. I have a lot of fun playing basketball and a lot of fun living life.”

That is a fine legacy. Wherever he goes I hope it continues. I suspect it will.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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