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NBA PM: Diaw Has Unlikely Pupil in Biyombo

In 2011, Boris Diaw mentored a rookie a decade younger than him. Today, as opponents, they’re closer than ever.

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Diaw Finds Unlikely Pupil in Biyombo

They call it the “French Connection.”

Five years after meeting as teammates in Charlotte, Bismack Biyombo and Boris Diaw have created a relationship so strong that they consider it a brotherhood and it has withstood changes of scenery that moved them hundreds of miles apart.

Biyombo had been eyeing the transition to the NBA for years. He moved from his home country of Congo to Spain to play professional basketball with the goal of making it to the world’s most competitive league. At 19 years old, he entered the 2011 NBA Draft and was selected seventh overall by the Sacramento Kings. However, he was traded shortly after to the Charlotte Bobcats as part of a three-team deal, making North Carolina his new home.

There were other international players on the team. Like Biyombo, DeSagana Diop was from Africa (Senegal), Eduardo Najera was born in Mexico, and Diaw came from France. Biyombo had also grown up speaking French, among other languages, creating an instant connection with Diaw – who was then an eighth-year veteran.

“[Our relationship] started great,” Diaw told Basketball Insiders. “I had already heard about him playing in the Nike Hoops Summit. He had 10 blocks and a terrific game. I thought, ‘This kid is probably is going to do well in the NBA.’”

Basketball was different in the NBA, though. The most immediate adjustment came off the court. Even though he could speak decent English before coming to the league, Biyombo still was trying to master the language at that point. It was easier for him to communicate with Diaw in French.

“It helped a lot,” Biyombo said. “Coming in as a rookie isn’t easy. You have to make your transition. I didn’t come with my family, I was living by myself. But every single day, I spent time with him. It was just great for me.”

Diaw didn’t have a veteran mentor during his rookie season on the Atlanta Hawks (2003-04). His closest friend on the team was fellow rookie Travis Hansen, who left to play in Europe the following year, which made him appreciate the importance of being a dependable go-to for Biyombo.

Diaw took him out to eat on a daily basis. When the team was home, Diaw invited Biyombo to his house for meals. Other times, they ate at Mortimer’s – a restaurant Diaw owns in Charlotte. On the road, the veteran footed the bill when they dined out. Diaw wanted to provide a sense of family since Biyombo’s parents were able to visit just once a year.

“I felt like he needed help because he was coming by himself and he needed people to rely on and show him the way,” Diaw said. “It’s different from being in Europe.”

On the floor, Diaw helped Biyombo get acclimated to his new team and role. Looking back, Diaw said Biyombo was “very humble” while also being a “hard worker who knew what he wanted” as a rookie.

What Biyombo , a 6’9 power forward,  wanted was to make an impact. In his first season, he averaged 5.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 23.1 minutes, yet he still encountered frustrations during that time.

“When you’re a rookie and not playing as much as you expected, [it’s frustrating]. I went to him and the one thing he always told me was, ‘Control what you can control,’” Biyombo recounted. “I cannot control everybody. I think that’s helped me over the years.”

Biyombo played the first four seasons of his NBA career for Charlotte. Diaw’s tenure there ended earlier, as the team waived him in March of Biyombo’s rookie season. He signed with the San Antonio Spurs days later.

Diaw is now in his 13th NBA season and continues to be a key reserve player on the Spurs, with whom he a championship in 2014. Biyombo is in his fifth season and his first with the Toronto Raptors, with whom he signed during the offseason. He is averaging 5.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and one block in 16.8 minutes for his new team.

“He had to adapt to the game,” Diaw said of his pupil. “Obviously he’s most known for defense and blocking shots, but he’s also working on his skills offensively and being able to finish around the basket. He’s getting better and better, little by little.”

Over the years, Biyombo continued to reach out to Diaw for veteran guidance. During the Spurs’ deep playoff runs, Biyombo has even traveled to San Antonio to attend the games. Diaw hopes to visit Biyombo’s basketball camp in Congo one summer. Even though they were teammates for only a brief period of time, that did not stop their friendship from growing far beyond that.

“That’s like my big brother,” Biyombo said. “He took care of me like [I was] his little brother and taught me a lot about the NBA. He was always there, so I appreciate him.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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