Started from the bottom, now he’s here.

Whether you’re a devote basketball fan or a hardcore Torontonian, you likely can’t help but join along in yelling the Raptors’ iconic chant, “LET’S GO RAPTORS!” The Raptors have taken the world by storm following their NBA championship win in 2019. Being the only Canadian team in the NBA, they continue to impress with their basketball talent, making Canadians as proud as ever.

Beloved NBA champ, Serge Ibaka stopped by Humber Lakeshore on Jan. 11 for our first Real Talks event of the new year to inspire students and discuss his rise to the top.

Ibaka does it all. From basketball to cooking to modelling to even producing two documentaries, there isn’t much he has left to master. His story proves that anything is possible when you work hard and try your best to achieve your goals.

We had the chance to sit down and chat with Ibaka about his life pre-fame, food, and lessons he’s learned. Check out all he had to say below:

On his culinary inspirations

For Serge Ibaka, his talents don’t stop on the court. Aside from spending the majority of his time practicing his basketball skills, a lot of his free time is spent hosting his hit YouTube show, How Hungry Are You? where he cooks up some seriously amazing Congolese food for unsuspecting guests.

From fish-eye poutine to deep-fried snake, Serge exudes passion for Congolese cuisine in each episode.

This love for food comes second nature. Serge spoke on to how food was always a large part of his life, with his dad being his biggest inspiration.”Growing up, I always used to watch my dad cook these types of food—and I used to eat [it], too.” he said.

Watching his dad cook for years made him fall in love with the art of food. Cooking traditional meals became something he loves doing because it’s what he grew up with.

His dream guest for How Hungry Are You?

NBA player, serge ibaka wearing chef outfit and cooking
Image Courtesy of Serge Ibaka

With over 200,000 subscribers on YouTube, How Hungry Are You? is becoming a go-to show for fans craving a good laugh. Serge has had his fair share of amazing guests, ranging from fellow teammates like Pascal Siakam to comedian, Tiffany Haddish. But there’s one guest he’d still love to have on the show.

“This may come as a surprise, but Will Smith is my dream guest for How Hungry Are You?

Serge shared he’s a big fan of Will Smith and everything he does on social media. With Will Smith being one of the most popular actors on both the big and small screen, it comes to no surprise that Serge admires him too. Though he wouldn’t spill the beans on what he would cook if Smith were to make an appearance on his show, he has some ideas in the works.

So, keep your eyes peeled. If Will Smith does stop by, we’re sure it’ll be a treat.

The Serge Ibaka Foundation

Serge has overcome his fair share of adversities in his lifetime. From a glance, it may seem his life in the spotlight is glamourous, but his life back home in the Congo was far from easy. After losing his mother at the young age of seven, he found himself living on the streets for part of his childhood.

In a family of 18 siblings, he’s experienced the hardships children in the Congo face firsthand. Whether it be through the lack of food, parental guidance, or simply finding a place to sleep.

Besides being a UNICEF ambassador for the Republic of Congo, he also started the Serge Ibaka Foundation to do his part to help combat the poverty facing children across Africa and the world.

“This foundation has always been my dream,” he said. “It’s also my way to thank God for all of his blessings.”

Advice to his younger self 

Although his life before NBA fame was far from easy, Ibaka’s grateful for his experiences and has always believed in himself. Though it appears money could have mended the struggles of poverty he faced, Serge stressed that no amount of money can buy happiness.

“If there’s one thing I could tell five-year-old Serge is that: Money is not happiness. It’s normal to believe that when you’re struggling at a young age, because you just don’t know.”

His childhood experiences made his rise to the top highly unlikely. But with perseverance, hard work, and faith he was able to work his way up to being an NBA champion—even through hard circumstances.

On living and playing in Toronto

Though the freezing weather is hard to get over, Canada has a lot of redeeming qualities like multiculturalism and inclusivity.

Ibaka expressed that living here, “doesn’t really feel like [he’s] living in North America,” because Toronto is home to a mosaic of different cultures that are celebrated rather than masked. He explained that living here is unlike any other place because you have many different vibes here. From European to African and much more, Canada is a place where you can meet people from across the globe.

“The beauty of living in Toronto is that we have multiple cultures here and it’s so fun. You meet a lot of people from different places and it feels good,” he explained. “You don’t feel like you’re the only one that comes from somewhere.”

His advice to Humber and Guelph-Humber students?

“My only advice is to keep working, keep believing that anything is possible. Keep believing in whatever you try to do—even when you try and don’t reach your goal. You’ll get even better with all the hard work you put in, trust me, you’ll get better.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Want some more celeb content? Check out our interviews with Dan Levy and Antoni Porowski.

Stay tuned to find out who our next Real Talks guest will be!

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