Photos: @Lebougmelo and @AlyasMusic

After the grind of an 82-game season, summer is understandably a time for professional basketball players to relax and step away from the game for a bit. For Bismack Biyombo, who traveled to Paris to compete at Quai 54 — the toughest streetball competition in the world — loving the game means no days off.

Bismack typically spends the off-season doing charitable work in his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Growing up in its second-largest city, Lubumbashi, he played basketball barefoot, because he didn’t own a pair of shoes. At the age of 16, he left his family, and the only home he ever knew, to pursue a basketball dream. Today, as a successful professional athlete, his dedication to the game is only matched by his commitment to giving back.

This past weekend at Quai 54 in Paris, under the blazing hot sun, Bismack was both reflective and focused on the competition ahead. To him, it wasn’t just a friendly pickup game or a celebrity appearance. 16 elite teams, including other professional basketball players, showed up with the same goal as him: win it all. In the end, he led his team, Child of Africa, to a championship and earned game MVP honors in the process.

It’s summer, and you could be on a beach somewhere enjoying the off-season. Why travel all the way to Paris to play in such an intense and competitive atmosphere?

Why? First of all, I love the game. I’m passionate about the game, and I work hard for it. You also want to test yourself. You want to expose yourself to real competition. Everybody here wants to achieve something. That’s the reason I wanted to be here.

I could go to the beach and do all this nice stuff, but careers are so short, and I want to enjoy this game for as long as I can. Plus, I get to connect with a lot of people and players who have the same passion and vision as me.

You have the biggest profile of any player here, and that makes you a target on the court. Are you aware of that when you’re playing?

I never change, man, at any stage of the game. I have fun, because the game is fun. I’m gifted to play this game, so I have to enjoy it. It’s never bothered me, and it’s not going to start now. [Laughs] We’re going to have a great time and share great memories.

You spent some time in Paris before the competition this weekend. How would you describe the energy around Quai 54 and basketball culture here?

The energy around Quai 54 is amazing. I had a chance to sit down with Hammadoun [Sidibe] to talk about it, because I wanted to come. I watched Quai 54 from afar but hadn’t been before.

Being part of it and seeing how it’s developing is crazy, and it’s fun. You get to support basketball in a new way. You get to share all of this love and passion — the dreams of achieving the next level. It’s even more exciting now that I’m closer to it.  Then you get here and see Jordan Brand and are like, “Oh man, this is the real deal.” Even if you see videos, you don’t get the whole experience until you come and see it firsthand.

We saw you interacting with some of the young fans here. We know using your platform to inspire kids in your home country is extremely important to you. You could just donate money and make a difference, but you choose to go back and keep your organization ran by your family. Why does it matter for you to stay close to and support your roots?

There are different reasons. The main reason has always been that if I look at a kid from where I’m from, I always ask myself: “What are the best opportunities I can give this kid, ones that I didn’t get?” How can I produce more Bismack Biyombos? They don’t have to just be leaders on the court, they could be leaders off the court, too, in their own communities.

I want to be able to say that I had a career that lasted over 15 years, and this is how many lives I impacted — how many leaders I developed. That’s really become my passion outside of loving the game, because I believe we have to inspire these kids. They look up to us so much as basketball players. As a human being, I always ask, “How can I impact their lives?”

The 2018 Jordan “Quai 54” collection is inspired by the vibrance of Parisian basketball culture. What was your first reaction when you saw the neon-colored shoes and apparel?

I saw them online first. The colors have their own look. I’m a big fan of Futures; they’re my favorite shoe. I have all of the colors. I travel everywhere wearing Futures. They’re easy to pack, and I can wear them with jeans, or I can wear them with shorts. I hope they bring more of these back.

How do you feel when you lace up your shoes and represent the Jumpman?

If I tell you the truth, it’s a blessing. Growing up, I never had the chance to have a pair of Jordans. When I found out I was going to be a Jordan Brand athlete, I was like a little kid with a big smile on my face.

I’m always thankful. How blessed am I? We have the best shoes in the business. Every time I’m in the locker room and a box shows up, people know what time it is.  I went from not having shoes to providing shoes for thousands of kids back home. The brand has been very supportive since I started my camps. It’s a great time for me to be alive, man.