We walk into the Toyota Center showing our press badges to be greeted by Rockets media relations manager, Sean McCloskey. Entering the gym where the Rockets players practice, I sit down with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, forward for NBA’s Houston Rockets. Upon asking for his backstory, he states, “I’m a kid from the world I like to call myself, I love the world. I came from the world, I’m a citizen of the world but more specifically Cameroon. I was born in Cameroon, grew up there for the majority of my childhood and went to France for a little bit then came back. I came here to the U.S. when I was 14 or 15 and I was in high school for three years in Orlando. Montverde Academy in Florida is a powerhouse now. Back then not as good, we were good though it was the first time the coach took over and changed the program. I was there for two years then graduated & went to UCLA for three years. I had a chance to do three Final Fours, some amazing teams. Obviously great years, never won though … we got close three times. I then decided to go pro so I got drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, was there for five years then bounced around for two years after that went to Sacramento (Kings), Minnesota (Timberwolves) then Philly (76ers). Finally, the last two years have been with Los Angeles Clippers and then just signed here last summer.” I said ‘wow!’ He said, “Yea, it’s been a pretty great journey the last nine years so I’m excited for more.”
“And the Family as well, do you have family here?” I asked. “I have brothers and sisters here in the U.S. My parents are still in Africa. I have a younger brother that just graduated from Cal Berkeley. My sister lives in Chicago. A brother in Philly. We’re kinda spread out through the United States. My twin brother was here in the states and just moved back to Cameroon. I have sisters in Europe, in Paris and a sister in London.” “Nice!” I said, “I have family in both of those too.” He said, ‘its good, it gives me places to visit’ I then said, “We may have a trade mission in one of those soon so we’ll have to bring ya.” He added, “Yeah, why not!”
That brings me to a question about your foundation, Luc Mbaha Moute Basketball Camp … is that something actively going on with the hurricane Harvey relief involvements in the community? “Our focus has been overseas doing basketball camps in developing areas, developing the kids in Africa. I just got here this past summer but what the people of Houston have done, it shows a lot about the city, a lot about their character. Such an amazing effort from guys on our team and guys on the football team like JJ Watt raising money. We’re hoping in the days to come to partner up with some of the guys here. We want to do something close to the people, what it’s like getting to their shelter, a closer relationship to the people. We’re going to work in deciding which direction to take and give substantially to the people. Obviously there’s a lot that can be done.” (*Update: A day after the interview they decided to join the Millennials group in disaster relief efforts with Mayor Sylvester Turner’s daughter, Ashley Turner, our city’s First Daughter.) I responded to Luc that I love that, seems like a great system is already going on!
“Now, I just got off the phone with a friend of mine, someone you may remember that’s an alumni of the Rockets. He asked me in his lingo the number one question is were you traded or a free agent?” Answer: “I wasn’t part of the trade. I signed here & came here. I wasn’t traded. I know people think I was traded though I decided to come here. It’s a special opportunity.
“I like the roster, I like the team, I like the philosophy. A great coach Mike (D’Antoni) and players like James, and CP played with before (both played for the LA Clippers for years together & have just arrived in Houston). I’ve always wanted to be in an organization like the Rockets. I’m blessed to be here. Look forward to the opportunity.”
We began taking photos and while giving him an iF logo mug, I also explained if he were in certain cultures like the Chinese — which is our next trade mission destination, by the way — how they are in saluting not above the rim of another when showing honor or respect. I then made sure my cup was level with his or even a bow as we clanked for the photo shoot. I asked if he were to prefer coffee, tea, sake, beer, or wine in his imaginary drink we are toasting to and his answer was tea. With that, we enjoyed envisioning a world champion win with our sip of green tea.
An excerpt from ESPN shedding light on the Cameroonian basketball players: Mbah a Moute’s coaching clinics have sparked a new generation of young basketball disciples eager to teach the game. There’s a clear path now, created by Mbah a Moute, taken by Embiid and followed by Siakam. It can no longer be argued that ‘nobody plays basketball in Cameroon.’
With career milestones ranging from 2006 (including Sweet Layup, Phenomenal Fresh, Pac-10 Freshman of the Year) with many in between (including Windy City Debut, Big City Breakout, Making Waves,& Complete Game) until 2011’s award called All Over The Glass. For this new asset to our city’s basketball team, we look forward to watching this leader’s driven presence within his activities.
by Sonia Guimbellot