When a person finds success, it’s too easy to forget what life was like before the gains. For NBA player Bismack Biyombo, life before his professional success was as unforgiving as it is unforgettable. Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Biyombo’s childhood was a daily struggle to find a future for his family. School was an hour’s walk away, meals sometimes came just once a day, and work was a frustrating process of incredible sacrifice. Still, Biyombo found solace in the dirt basketball court by his school; playing every day in bare feet with relentless passion.

“I wore dress shoes because I didn’t have basketball shoes. I played basketball with no shoes.”

It would take a bold leap of faith at the age of 16 before Biyombo would glimpse his destiny. The aspiring athlete was offered a contract to play in Qatar, but first he would have to get there. After spending the night in a Tanzanian jail and refused a border crossing due to paperwork, Biyombo understood this would be no cakewalk.

16-Year-Old Bismack Boyimbo, Complete With Basketball Jersey

He and his company of friends and family tried Yemen next, where the Congolese baller worked out for a local team. This was far from an improvement from the Congo, but it was just enough to keep Biyombo’s hopes alive.

“We didn’t have any money. We would stay up all night, go to sleep at 6 o’clock [a.m.] and wake at 3 o’clock [p.m.]. I would eat yogurt so we could have energy to practice for the team. We did that for a couple weeks until the team in Qatar was taking too long and the team in Yemen was getting interested in me and a few of my friends I flew there with. They told me they would pay me $600.”

It was in Yemen that the talent was spotted by coach Mario Palma. Biyombo was offered a contract in Spain, along with a job, but the 16-year-old still had a lot to learn.

Head to the next page for more of Biyombo’s story.