Tom Sorensen

A few vignettes about the Charlotte Hornets’ Bismack Biyombo, a man who enjoys life

Center Bismack Biyombo has a chance to play for the Charlotte Hornets this season.
Center Bismack Biyombo has a chance to play for the Charlotte Hornets this season. The Canadian Press via AP

Bismack Biyombo can run the court, set a pick, grab a rebound and block a shot. He grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo a soccer player, so he is limited offensively. He doesn’t have great hands. He doesn’t have good hands and will never be a scorer.

But when I think about Biyombo, I remember one thing he said during his first stint in Charlotte, a quote I find admirable.

He said: “I enjoy life. I enjoy everything.”

Biyombo, 6-9, played for Yemen and Spain, four seasons in Charlotte, one for the Toronto Raptors and two for the Orlando Magic. Yet he somehow doesn’t turn 26 until next month.

Now he’s in Charlotte again. The Hornets traded Timofey Mozgov to the Orlando Magic to get him. I have no idea if Mozgov, whom Charlotte acquired in the Dwight Howard deal, enjoys life. He was never here. I was still focused on learning to correctly spell his first name.

The Bobcats selected Biyombo seventh in the 2011 NBA draft, two spots before they drafted Kemba Walker. (Drafted between them was Kentucky guard Brandon Knight).

On their first day in town, Walker stayed in the background, laid back, a little quiet. Biyombo was outgoing and out there, thrilled and showing it, dancing with the team’s dancers at the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets.

Walker, of course, has become Charlotte’s best player and all-time leading scorer, an all-star. Biyombo has been a helper. His career averages: 5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks.

But Biyombo occasionally would go off in a nonscoring manner. As proof, he has two years remaining on a four-year, $68 million contract. You can’t blame a guy that can’t score for scoring a $68 million contract. We always blame the overpaid player. He didn’t create the contract. He merely signed it.

In a 2016 playoff game for Toronto against the Cleveland Cavaliers of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Biyombo grabbed 26 rebounds.

In Charlotte, in a game against San Antonio – wonder if Tony Parker, the new Charlotte guard, and former San Antonio star, remembers – Biyombo was a force. He played 29 minutes, grabbed 15 rebounds, scored 12 points, blocked five shots and altered about 20 of them.

He was not going to play in Orlando, which already had Nikola Vucevic and drafted Mo Bamba. But Biyombo has a chance to play in Charlotte. The competition will be Cody Zeller and Willy Hernangomez. They might not block five shots this season.

During Biyombo’s first stint in Charlotte, he got excited about exploring his new town and what it offered. I met him at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he had gone for his first NASCAR race. Ah, was he excited, child excited, can’t wait to see what comes next excited. What a beautiful quality that is.

Back in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his brother Billy Biyombo had the NASCAR video game. When Bismack played, he would pretend he was NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson.

Now he was there, in an infield on the other side of the world, about to see the real Jimmie Johnson.

On a cold night in Chicago where Charlotte had gone for a road game, Biyombo encountered a man on the sidewalk, beneath a thin blanket, wearing four old coats. The temperature was below freezing and the man, too, was freezing. He was dirty. Biyombo invited him to dinner.

They went to a restaurant in a mall. Security guards came by more than once. Yes, we are together, the basketball center told the guards. Later, Biyombo talked about the great conversation he and the man had.

I don’t know how much impact Biyombo will make on the court for the Hornets. But he made a difference that night in Chicago, and I hope that on some nights he makes a difference in Charlotte. I hope his zest for life is intact.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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