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NBA center Bismack Biyombo says he replaced video games with meditation to improve his focus

INSIDER logo INSIDER 5/7/2021 jthompson@businessinsider.com (Jackson Thompson)
Bismack Biyombo looking at the camera: Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo (8) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, in Denver. AP Photo/David Zalubowski © AP Photo/David Zalubowski Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo (8) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, in Denver. AP Photo/David Zalubowski
  • Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo said he gave up video games before he came to the NBA.
  • He adopted meditation after talking with a passenger about it on a plane.
  • Biyombo said the switch has made a big difference in his in-game focus.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo has taken his basketball career to three continents, and with each move, his hobbies have changed.

Now that he's in the NBA, Biyombo said, the time he spent playing video games as a young man is devoted to meditation. He's said the switch helped him slow down the basketball around him.

"You can tell when your brain is moving too fast, you need to slow it down and keep it in the same space," Biyombo told Insider. "I have to know the coverage from the one, from the two, from the three, from the four and from the five, and when I'm on the floor I have to help all of them ... It requires a lot of focus."

Biyombo grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, played basketball in Yemen then Spain early in his career, and has moved around the US during his years in the NBA.

Many of his NBA peers, including LeBron James and Steph Curry, are avid meditators as well (though, of course, plenty of players are gamers, too). When he becomes a parent, Biyombo said, he plans to bring meditation into his kids' lives.

"The goal is to get my kids to get into meditation at a younger age, and I think it will play a big role in their lives," he said. "Now ideally, I will try to keep them away from video games as much as I can because I think that you get more out of life in general by focusing on the information hiding inside of books."

Gaming was part of Biyombo's childhood

Growing up, Biyombo said, he played lots of video games with his brothers Billy, Biska, and Bikim.


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"Back home we actually had a Nintendo and then we got a PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2, so we used to play a lot of Mario, and my brothers and I used to compete a lot," Biyombo said.

Gaming was a luxury for Biyombo's family, he told Insider. As a kid, his family's poverty meant he sometimes lacked basketball shoes and even sufficient food, according to The Undefeated.

In his early teens, Biyombo began his youth basketball career in Yemen. Then at 16, he went to Spain to play in the Liga EBA basketball tournament, and later played in Liga ACB, the country's top basketball division. It was there he stopped gaming altogether. Instead, he tried to focus on basketball and spent most of his free time reading books.

"When I got to Spain, I just had to focus on my NBA career and start building up to see where that was going to go from there, but then I wanted to educate myself," Biyombo said. "Since I stopped playing video games, it was just hard for me to go back again just because of what I was getting out of learning. I tried to play a few times with my brothers and it didn't go too well. I had the controller and I was asking them which buttons I need to press, after two minutes I was like, 'this isn't for me.'"

Biyombo says meditation helped in his NBA career

The Sacramento Kings selected Biyombo with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, then traded him to the Charlotte Bobcats the same year.

In Biyombo's third NBA season, his minutes, points, and rebounds per game all dropped. The following year, when the team changed its name to the Hornets, it had sputtered to the bottom of the Eastern conference by mid-December.

Bismack Biyombo holding a basketball: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports © Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

That February, Biyombo was on a plane from California back to Charlotte at the end of the All-Star break, and he struck up a conversation with the women sitting next to him. They introduced him to meditation and the book "Happy Pocket Full of Money" by David Cameron Gikandi.

Biyombo was nursing a leg injury at the time, so he read the book during his recovery and learned introductory meditation. He credits the new habit with boosting his mood and helping him return from injury to a starter role in the final weeks of the season.

"I was happier," Biyombo said. "I was not concerned about the so-called bad things that were happening. I was paying more attention to life in general."

Biyombo's play as a starter in 2015 helped him land a new contract with the Toronto Raptors the next season, where he set career highs in points and rebounds. He went on to play two seasons with the Orlando Magic before returning to Charlotte in 2018. Now with the Hornets once more, Biyombo said he teaches younger players his habits.

"I get to share a lot with young guys as a veteran now," he said. "Everything happens for a reason, there's a purpose for everything, so I think I had to go through certain things so I can educate somebody else."

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