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Courting Fashion

The Phoenix Suns’ Bismack Biyombo Talks Playing Basketball, Designing Clothes, Career Highs—and the One Thing You’ll Never See Him Doing

Bismack Biyombo is not your typical NBA player. He was raised by his parents in a very small town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the family—which also included three brothers and three sisters—had limited access to resources most professional athletes had access to growing up. In fact, they even had limited access to clothes, and Biyombo only had a pair or two of shoes until he began playing basketball professionally in Europe at age 15.

Today, he’s a valued Phoenix Suns player, enjoys fashion (previous teammates have voted him best dressed multiple seasons in a row!), and when he’s not spending time on either of those, he's giving back to his hometown and others through his Bismack Biyombo Foundation.

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, did you ever think you’d live in the U.S. and play for the NBA one day?

I had dreams to play in the NBA. I used to play soccer. At the age of 12, it started shifting from soccer into basketball. I was too tall as a soccer player. I was getting too tall; my friends were shorter and faster. And that’s kind of how I started making a shift into basketball, and then over time, it became a dream to play in the NBA. Then over time, you could see it coming to light. Then in 2016, I left home and went to Yemen, then Spain, then Fuenlabrada, and then the NBA.

What has been your favorite career moment?

The [Nike] Hoops Summit, which was the game that changed my life in a way because it was a game basically that introduced me to the NBA world and then being able to be recognized by the NBA scouts. That’s probably my favorite moment because I was not expected to play in the NBA, and I was not expected to be in that environment. Then when they finally chose to invite me to the game … I kind of became the surprise of the whole game. … I was supposed to get drafted two years later, and this was in 2011, and I ended up getting drafted that same year after the Hoops Summit. I think that’s probably one of my favorite moments, going from nobody to somebody, I guess.

You are known for being very fashionable! Why is fashion important to you?

I love to dress, and I love the process. I don’t have a stylist. I do my own style because, to me, I think the reflection of who I am, I use it sometimes through clothes. I enjoy getting dressed, to be honest. I think the process of picking out different colors and outfits—you might have an idea of wearing one thing to tomorrow’s game, then you go and you take a nap, and you wake up from your nap and your whole mood is different, your attitude changed, and you want to [wear] something that goes hand in hand with that.

For me, it’s always been … I’ve got to represent myself in a way that feels good to me, so I try really hard. I love fashion.

Do you have any favorite designers?

A lot of my clothes I actually design myself and then someone makes them for me. I find pictures, and then I make some adjustments and some changes to make them look exactly the way I want it.

I do have some designer clothes, but a lot of my clothes I like to design myself and make them my own fashion.

How did you get into designing your clothes?

Early on for me, it was hard to find clothes. I’d go shopping, and I’d be mad because I wouldn’t find my size. Then I met someone when I was living in LA, and they said you could send them anything and they would make it for you. So, they started making my stuff. At the beginning, whatever I could find, I would make my own by making some adjustments—so they designed it the way I wanted. But then once I started playing with [the designs], for me, it got fun.

That’s how I started and then it evolved over time.

So … are we going to see you have a fashion line in the future?

Absolutely not! (Laughs.)

In 2021-22, you pledged your salary toward constructing a hospital in Congo. Why did you feel that was important?

When my dad got sick, thank God I could take care of him, and thank God I had the resources to put groups of doctors together and then get him out of the country. But when I was going there and observing the environments that he was in, the question was always, How about those other people that could not afford what I could afford for my dad? Like, what were the chances for them surviving? For me, we were always doing enough. We were refurbishing hospitals and donating medical equipment, but when my dad got into that situation, I got to educate myself a little more on the health of people back home. There is one doctor for every 10,000 people in the Congo.

For me, once my dad passed, one, I wanted to take some time away to heal properly in order for me to continue to enjoy the game, and two, is by doing that, then you find that motivation to do something. When I decided to play the game again, for me, the best way to remember him and what he has done for me—he spent his whole life servicing people—so I wanted to give them something that would continue to service people, and knowing that even if we couldn’t save his life, through our own human power, we can save a lot of lives perhaps in his name. So that’s where the idea came for donating my salary and then just building a hospital that will be able to save some lives, and then focus on the newborn, as well, because he was really big on that.

You’ve lived in many cities over your career. What do you think makes Phoenix special?

One, the weather! I love the weather. I’ve played in a lot of cities, but I think I just love the weather in Phoenix … and I enjoy a lot of sunsets. And the people are amazing here. You have really good people—great fans that are passionate about the team.

You chose to play with the Phoenix Suns. What draws you to the team?

Winning! The passion of winning. I won a lot with my dad when he was still alive, whether it was career decisions, contracts, and so on and on. But I wanted to win something when I decided to play basketball again. It was just being able to say it’s a new journey I started, you know, won a new championship without my dad, and the passion that grows behind it, the level of focus and dedication. Because to me, it’s not just that I want a chance at a championship; it’s more than that. It’s that I take on a new role in my family, becoming the father figure for my brothers and my sisters, and I think that the desire, and obviously last year coming to Phoenix, was that Phoenix was the best team, and I still believe that we are the best team, despite the fact that we’re having a lot of injuries. But last year the team was the best in the league, and for me, it was just giving myself the chance to just win something, which will be the first victory without my dad. To me, it will always mean something.

You recently hit 1,000 blocks in your career, which speaks to your longevity. What are some of the things you do to keep you going?

I think it’s just the passion of winning, to be honest. I think, to me, winning has just been one of the most important things because, I think, if you don’t win, all of those numbers really mean nothing. So for me, it’s finding ways to impact the game in whichever way I can, because I know that at the end of the day, if there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s winning a basketball game. 

Reaching a thousand blocks is great, but if I win a championship, that will be everything. Not if—when I win a championship!

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

That’s a good and tough question because I think I’ve done so many interviews over my life that I think my life is all over Google! I don’t have anything specific besides just my brothers and my sister are my best friends, and we have a unique relationship.

There’s no one specific thing that people would be surprised about. From a kid, you get asked questions year after year, different questions, but by the time you become a man, you’ve basically given your whole life to Google.

But at the same time, this is the life I’ve chosen, and I’m grateful for it. I’m always thankful that God has put me in a position to do what I do, and things that I love to do, whether it’s playing basketball or doing the work that we do with my foundation. … We started with 25, and now we have thousands and thousands of kids across the country, and we are building schools and hospitals and all these things.

These are the things that, in my wildest dreams as a kid, I could never think of. And then being able to [bring] over 70 kids to the U.S. on scholarships.

It just gives you so much joy how much impact one person’s success can have on other people. But at the end of the day, I just have a big passion about where I came from, and I have a big passion about the younger generation because I believe they are going have a tremendous impact on our society, and that’s where I like to shift and put my energy outside of basketball and businesses.