When Bismack Biyombo’s father died this past August from a COVID-related illness, it left a hole in the heart of the Phoenix Suns’ backup center. Francois Biyombo was only 62 at the time of his unexpected decline and living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Bismack and his five siblings were born and raised.
“He was young. He’d never been in the hospital before,” Biyombo said Friday in an exclusive interview at the Suns’ virtually new $50 million practice facility. “This was the last thing we expected to happen to him. But then again life has a way of working and sometimes there are things you can’t control.”
Biyombo was out of the NBA at that point, and though he was barely 29, he wasn’t highly motivated to continue his career. But he decided to give it another try and dedicate the 2021-22 season to his dad.
And after he signed a contract with the Suns in January, Biyombo donated the whole of his $1.52 million salary to building a hospital back home that will bare his father’s name: The Biyombo Francois Hospital.
“There’s a joy for me to do something for him, to gift him something that will hopefully last generations and save lives,” Biyombo said. “He dedicated his whole life servicing people. My motivation and desire were to put something in place that would continue servicing people under his name.
“The goal is not to live forever, but the goal is to do something that will hopefully live forever.”
That’s only part of the story. The spiritual Biyombo has earned $86.7 million in an 11-season career playing for five teams. The Suns signed him to a 10-day contract when centers Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee went into the COVID health and safety protocols. Biyombo played so well, Phoenix general manager James Jones signed him for the rest of the season. The move turned out to be prescient when on Jan. 15 Ayton suffered an ankle injury.
Biyombo earned $151,821 for the 10-day and another $1.37 million when he signed for the remainder of the season, accounting for the $1.52 million he intends to donate to build the hospital at his hometown of Lubumbashi located in the southern region of the country. There, through his own foundation, he’s spent a great percentage of his overall NBA earnings on infrastructure and helping the local people.
Asked if he could put a number on how much money he’s spent, Biyombo said:
“I can’t give you the exact number, but it’s a lot of money. By me being a success in life and getting to this level I was able to do more for my people. That has always been my inspiration. It’s good to make a lot of money, but it’s a meaningless life if all you can look back at is you’ve made a lot of money.”
In his father he found the nexus. Francois funded his son’s journey through Yemen and Spain into the NBA,where he was the seventh pick in the 2011 draft by the Sacramento Kings. That happened without Biyombo playing a second of collegiate ball.
His siblings, two brothers and three sisters, and mother had all moved to the U.S. while Biyombo was building a career in the NBA. For a decade his father oversaw the foundation, dispersing the fortune Bismack sent home. His two big NBA deals were a four-season, $40.3 million contract with Orlando and two seasons worth $34 million with Charlotte.
That was more than enough for several lifetimes. Despite a country rich in natural resources, the Congo is considered underdeveloped economically with a GDP of $68.5 billion as late as 2017. In comparison the U.S. GDP in 2021 was $23 trillion. With his resources, Biyombo said he’s dispersed food, built orphanages and churches and aided single mothers. He is building a second school, and runs a basketball academy, too. All of it supervised by his dad.
“He was also my business partner,” Biyombo said. “He was somebody I trusted my entire life. He advised me on a lot of things. Now I can sleep easily.”
The hole in Biyombo’s heart may never mend, but at least it is full at the moment.