Not even a box of “Junk Yard Dog” chocolates or a bouquet of Damon Stoudamire rookie cards could’ve made Raptors fans happier on this Valentine’s Day.
The team has dropped 10 of its past 14 games, so the franchise’s most high-profile trade acquisition since dealing Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings more than four years ago will surely serve as a wakeup call to the rest of the roster.
Ibaka is a boon to Toronto’s front court, averaging 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game through 56 starts this season. He can give the team 30-plus minutes per night and brings with him a world-class defensive presence and the experience of having 83 playoff starts dating back to 2011. He also speaks five languages (English, French, Lingala, Spanish and Catalan).
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the newest Raptor:
Name: Serge Ibaka
Position: Power forward
Weight: 235 pounds
Drafted: 24th overall in 2008 by the Seattle SuperSonics
Contract status: Free agent after 2016-17 season
He’s the defensive star the Raptors have been lacking
Any Raptors fan missing the type of quality defence Ibaka’s now former teammate Bismack Biyombo brought to the table for the Raptors during the 2016 post-season should feel at ease with Ibaka in the fold.
Ibaka has been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team three times (2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14). He led the NBA in total blocks in four consecutive seasons from 2010-2014. The only other player in NBA history to accomplish that feat is finger-wagging, rim-protecting legend Dikembe Mutombo.
The Raptors have allowed 104.7 points against per game this season. Not a terrible number relative to the rest of the league, but they’ve only held their opponents to fewer than 100 points four times so far in 2017. They’re a much stronger defensive unit today than they were yesterday — on paper at least.
His journey to the NBA is quite remarkable
“Basketball is just a game. When I come home it’s life, man. It’s life.”
Ibaka is from the Republic of Congo and the third youngest of 18 children – one of his younger siblings, Igor Ibaka, plays basketball for Midwestern State University.
Since he comes from an impoverished part of the world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ibaka is one of the most charitable NBA stars you’re likely to come across. In addition to various work he does in North America with his Serge Ibaka Foundation, he often travels back to his hometown of Brazzaville, Congo that he has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for over the years.
His inspiring story was documented in the 2015 film “Son of the Congo.”
Raptors already thinking about contract extension
Considering Toronto gave up a first-round pick and the fact Ross has two more years remaining on his contract, it’s safe to say Raptors president Masai Ujiri and team GM Jeff Weltman aren’t viewing this Ibaka deal as a rental player situation.
Moving Ross and the $10.5 million he’s owed in each of the next two seasons should make it easier to ink Ibaka, who’s in the final year of a four-year contract.
Will this impact the team’s ability to potentially re-sign a player like pending free agents Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson? We’ll soon find out.
He has history with Masai Ujiri
As rumours revolving around the Raptors’ interest in Ibaka surfaced it became abundantly clear Ujiri has been a fan of Ibaka’s for quite some time. The two of them have both done yeoman’s work in Africa over the years and know one another from their time with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative.
Toronto sports team adds another character guy
The Toronto Blue Jays signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia in January. His surname is 14 characters, the longest in the majors and believed to be the longest in MLB history. It’s nothing compared to Ibaka’s full name though.
He was born *takes deep breath* “Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka.”
That’s 46 characters in case you were wondering. He totally answers to Serge though.
He has style on and off the court
Toronto can be a stylish city so Ibaka should fit in well there. The power forward has a powerful wardrobe, including pieces from his own clothing line called “Avec Classe.”
He often posts photos of his line on his social media accounts. Ibaka posted this pic on his Instagram page of him sporting one of his shirts on the cover of a magazine.