The Iso: Bismack Biyombo


The Players’ Tribune is introducing a new series called The Iso. With so many of us keeping our distance from each other in a variety of ways, we decided to ask some of our favorite athletes to share how they’ve been dealing with life in the Covid-19 world, and how they’re spending their time away from their sport.

Yeah, the NBA is on hold. And the situation here in the U.S. is definitely out of control.

But think about this. When this all hit where I’m from, in the D.R. Congo, they didn’t even have the basic supplies to fight this thing. We had about 50 ventilators in the capital city, Kinshasa — 50. That’s for 13 million people.

And out of those 80 million people, at least 70% are poor. They depend on the daily wage that they’re gonna earn from whatever job they got. How do you tell that 70% to stay at home?

I’m very concerned about how this will turn out because this is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries. The country is worth over $24 trillion in untapped mineral reserves, and yet it’s one of the poorest countries in the world.

You have to understand, I’ve seen this before. All across the African continent we have been dealing with outbreaks. Malaria. Polio. Measles. My country has been fighting Ebola for two years. Last month, we were on our last case in the whole country. Then a new case appeared.

My foundation has been working on shoring up the health-care system in the DRC for a long time now. We’ve been refurbishing hospitals and medical clinics over the past few years, not even thinking we’d be facing anything like this, something of this scope. When the virus hit, I knew we had to do more.

I’ve spent the last few weeks on the phone around the clock, coordinating shipment logistics. Yeah, man. Logistics. To be honest, it’s been a challenge! I play ball for a living, remember? This isn’t exactly my area of expertise.

Guess what? We made it happen.

We recently were able to deliver 10,000 masks and 780 hazmat suits to the DRC. That’s $1,000,000 worth of supplies. I honestly got emotional when I found out we would be able to do it. I didn’t even want to say anything because I didn’t know if it would happen. I also don’t like to flex about stuff like that.

But I’m really proud. To come through like this for my country? It means the world to me, and I know it means so much to my family. I just hope it will give everyone in the DRC a little bit of hope.

Kevin Couliau

I remember finishing the last game in Miami and heading back to the locker room. We were walking off of the floor when I started hearing people in the crowd saying, “The season is over.” I was thinking, They must be joking. Then, everybody’s phones started ringing. I looked at my phone and realized, Oh, no. This is actually happening.

At the time, we didn’t have a lot of information. We were being told that some NBA players had contracted the virus, so we were all going to have to go into quarantine. Then maybe in two weeks, three weeks we could get back to playing.

The next day, when we got back to Charlotte, the players’ union, which I’m a part of, had a phone call. Obviously it’s a lot of money involved, so we were really concerned about that. But right now, nobody’s getting to play. We can’t even begin to start talking about coming back until the experts and the government get this virus under control. Things are looking up, though. There are a few states where players can start accessing facilities again in very limited capacities — like two at a time for 30 minutes.

Progress is progress. That doesn’t mean games or anything like that. But you have to count it as a small win.

I’m in touch with my people back home. My mom and my dad are still in the DRC. I want to get my parents out of there, but where do I send them? At this point, they can’t go anywhere. It’s really difficult to deal with.

I have my brothers and sisters here with me in Charlotte, where I’m quarantined. That’s been helpful with maintaining my mental health. I also meditate a lot and have been reading more. I jump around a lot with what I’m reading, but I like self-help books about strengthening the mind.

An upside is that a lot of young people will get to learn from this situation. They are actively seeing how governments are leading, how they are making decisions, and the results of those decisions in different places. We will learn from it, and we will grow from it. All of our future leaders will have to look at this situation and start finding better solutions.

My foundation is learning, too. We never thought we’d be facing a pandemic that the whole world would be dealing with. We never thought about that. So now, we’re looking at where we can prepare for the next one. In the DR Congo it’s like, O.K., some of our ventilators are old or not in good shape. Let’s refurbish those. We should have been doing that years and years and years ago.

We are living in a challenging environment. There’s no way around it. I know that we are all overwhelmed, but you can either let this get the best of you, or you can try to get the best out of this. Whatever you gotta do, just make sure that when we come out of this, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, You know what? These were hard times, but I got better at something.

We are all going to look back, and we are going to tell our kids these stories. These are tough times, but they will not be for nothing.