Making it to the NBA is one thing, but staying in it is another. That is the main reason why some players were prompted to play overseas or in lower-tier basketball leagues such as the NBA G League. A living proof of that is the unusual case of NBA champion Serge Ibaka.
Putting ego aside
After undergoing back surgery in June last year, Ibaka, who was playing for the Los Angeles Clippers at the time, was looking forward to a strong comeback. However, when he finally returned in November, the Clippers had already formed an effective rotation, with Ivica Zubac being the starting center. Ibaka realized that he had fallen out of coach Tyronn Lue’s pecking order.
Disappointed with how things played out in his return, “Air Congo” made a noble yet risky decision. Without any assurance, if he would ever make it back to the major league, Ibaka asked that the Clippers send him to the team’s G League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers.
In the three-time NBA All-Defensive team selection’s head, putting his ego aside and demoting himself will pay off as he can get the minutes he needs to get back to his old form.
“One of the bigger reasons I decided to go to play the G League was reading this book, it’s called ‘Ego Is the Enemy,’” Ibaka told Los Angeles Times last year. “As a player, I’ve been in the league for 13 years, and I’ve never been in the G League before. I could just wait. I could just wait and play the five minutes I was getting and try to figure it out, but that book has really helped me to take that decision to go play in the G League, and it’ll be fine.”
An important reminder
Fortunately for Ibaka, things went down the way he imagined it to be for the most part. In his four-game spell in the G League, “Air Congo” averaged 15.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 27.3 minutes on 43% shooting, a pretty impressive overall stats for an NBA champ.
Of course, the other inevitable thing also happened. According to Ibaka, he has heard “some comment making fun of me” primarily because of his decision. But none of that derailed him.
In fact, Ibaka made it back to the Clippers squad with an important reminder to all his fellow NBA stalwarts-you can’t always get back what’s yours unless you’re a big-name star.
“I think a lot of players can use this example in that situation if you sit out,” Ibaka pointed out. “At least if you’re Kawhi [Leonard] or Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry, those kind of guys they can sit for three years and they’re going to come back, [teams are] going to give them minutes, they’re going to give them — they’re going to try to get them their confidence. At least if you are one of those guys, you can stay, but if you’re not one of those guys, one of those names out there, sometimes you have to work for yourself to go get your confidence because nobody is going to give you that.”
Ibaka may no longer be the tenacious frontcourt defender he once was these days, however, he has proven that his heart and mind are still tough as a nail. He spent the remainder of this season with the Milwaukee Bucks, who traded for him in hopes of getting some size under the basket. Whether he would continue his career with the Bucks or not remains to be seen, but there is no question Ibaka can still contribute in the NBA among the best players in the world.