‘The Raptors needed what I do.’ One on One with Bismack Biyombo

Bismack Biyombo's defensive presence is just what the Raptors needed. Just ask Bismack Biyombo.

Ahead of Toronto’s Wednesday night matchup with the Utah Jazz, Sportsnet caught up with Raptors big man, Bismack Biyombo.

The six-foot-nine centre took a seat on a chair outside the team’s locker room after morning shootaround (he was still taller than the standing interviewer) and talked about his love of defence, his childhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ‘Big Bizness’, and what he learned from Michael Jordan.

Sportsnet: There’s a lot of glory in offence. Why do you enjoy D so much?
Biyombo: When I was with Michael Jordan [in Charlotte], he always told me, “Defence wins championships.”

Wow. You have to listen to him.
Yes, if one of the best of all time is telling me that defence wins championships, I gotta give him credit. Even if I’m getting better at these little things on offence, my main focus is to be that guy, that defensive presence. I think that’s how I envisioned coming here to establish myself, because they needed that. The team needed what I do. And at the end of the day for me, whatever I can do to help the team win, I’m all for it. If that’s playing defence, then let’s go for it. If that’s setting 20,000 screens let’s go for it.

At the start of the season you said your goal was to improve the team defence. Have you seen that happen?
I’ve seen it happen, but as we’re getting closer to the playoffs we’ve got to find a way to raise the bar higher. I was very happy that the coach told me that my responsibility was going to be to run the defence. It’s a big job, but at the same time it’s a fun job. I love it. When we played Cleveland here we all got into it and down the stretch, the last few minutes, our defence kind of got us the win, which is what we’re gonna be lookin’ for in the playoffs.

You grew up in Lubumbashi. What was your childhood like?
I was different. Growing up back home, it was different, the way things are compared to here. You see a lot of people that aren’t fortunate, and I was in that situation where I was not fortunate. Not to have shoes. Not to have food. You go to school, then during school break you don’t have enough money to afford anything. At the same time, we were happy with nothing. If I have something now, why should I not be happy? It was a life lesson. I know the value of life and the value of helping other people and understanding what people go through. Being able to be here and going from that situation, it’s amazing. I’m very thankful for everything that has happened to me in the past.

Do you have a big family?
Yes, I have three brothers and two sisters, and I’m the oldest. I grew up in a big family and I had to take care of my little ones, as I call them. It was great and I’m also thankful that I had enough responsibility when I was young—that helped me to grow up fast and be mature. You have to set good examples for your brothers and sisters so they don’t follow the wrong path. I was able to do that and I continue to do that for them. I love them so much.

When did things improve for your family, financially? Was it after you left at 16 to pursue basketball?
Actually, before I left, my dad got a job, so it was better living. When you compare the past to that moment and to now, things only continue to get better and better. The universe always works in our best interest. For me I was able to meet the right people. It helped me put it together and obviously where I am now, I’m so thankful for the opportunity, being able to play every night.

When did you know basketball would be your career?
14.

And you were discovered at 16?
Yeah, I was playing soccer before that.

You’re pretty big for soccer…
I love soccer. I grew up playing, so I was playing until 14. Then around 13, I played a little bit of basketball. It was great for me—it was like playing soccer, you see this big guy on the soccer field, everybody outrunning me. [Laughs.] Then I started basketball, I thought it was something that I would be good at if I continued to work. I started working around 14, playing in a league. Then at 16 I decided to leave and when I left the country that’s when the process started.

Is your nickname Bizzy Bo?
No, that was just a joke. [Laughs.] A lot of people have a bunch of nicknames for me.

What’s your favourite?
Biznation. I stick with that since I got in the league. Then Drake started Big Bizness, which is going around faster than I thought. [Laughs]. I think that’s a good nickname as well.

Right, I think he said that after a monster block. What player do you most like to shut down?
I’m not gonna lie, often I don’t envision blocking shots, I envision changing shots, ‘cause I’m not gonna block everybody. Sometimes it’s just about making you think about whether or not you’re gonna come in and lay the ball. All those things that don’t go on the stat sheet, that for me is very important. Of course sometimes I block a shot, which is exciting. For me, it’s a read more than anything. At the point where we are, we have to protect the paint in order for us to win games. If we can score 100 points we can win any game on any night.

Did you expect this season to go this well?
Yeah, because I worked hard. When I first got on the phone with the coach and Masai [Ujiri, the GM] I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to be able to play at a high level with a team that’s playing for something. I still have a long way to go, but yes I expected a good season for myself. I also worked harder than I ever have in the summertime to prepare myself. Now I see exactly where I am and how good I can be and how much better I can get. But, again, we’re going for bigger things, further than just being the playoff team that gets in the playoffs and goes home. That’s why I was excited for coming here also.

To play for a contender.
Yes, we’re probably gonna be second seed. When I was in Charlotte, we made the playoffs one time, and we missed the playoffs last year. This is the first time going into the playoffs as a contender. It’s big for me. And it’s big for a lot of my teammates. We’re all trying to be a part of something special. For us going into the playoffs it’s having that mentality of being that team that makes it further than just getting in. We have to go further. We’re going to work hard, we’re going to push for it. That’s the only way it’s going to be done.

Biznation, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you very much.