The Amazing Story of DJ Mbenga

Jason OSenior Analyst IApril 2, 2008

Didier Ilunga Mbenga, mainly know as DJ Mbenga was born in Zaire on December 30th 1980 and is a 7ft center currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

But the road to the NBA has been a tough, pain full, and even life threatening ride for DJ who had never seen a basketball until he was 19 years old.

DJ lived in Zaire (The Democratic Republic of the Congo) for 17 years while his father was involved in the Congolese Government. When his father's term was over, the new regime hunted down everyone who worked for the previous leaders. As a result, DJ's father died in unknown circumstances, it is thought the new regime was behind it.

When the war between two of the native tribes (Tutsis and Hutus) broke out, DJ was falsely accused as being a Tutsi and was put in prison. With an execution pending, Mbenga needed to escape.

In 1999, after being in prison for nine months, his brother bribed a security guard and he managed to escape. The first plane out of the Congo was to Belgium, where he was given political asylum. Later on, he would also acquire the Belgian nationality.
DJ stayed with his mother in an asylum center in the town of Kapellen. While in Kapellen he found his new love, basketball.

While playing in the streets he was spotted by Willy Steveniers, who offered to teach DJ the game of basketball, he became his mentor and somewhat a father to him.

After playing for a few professional Belgium basketball clubs, Mbenga realized his dream. In 2004 the Dallas Mavericks signed DJ Mbenga  to an NBA contract and he stayed with them until 2007. After a brief stint with the Golden State Warriors, Mbenga signed with the Lakers and has become a consistent part of their rotation.

He has shown outstanding skill at the defensive end of the court but is nearly non-existent on offense. While he is steadily improving on this end, his true skills were fully displayed on February 13 2006, when he had five blocks in 15 minutes against the New York Knicks.

Despite not being the most talented player in the league, DJ is very popular in Dallas and the UK; this popularity prompted the Mavericks to sell his named jersey shirts, resulting with surprising success in number of sales.

Even though DJ has had such a tough up bringing, he is one of the nicest and most thoughtful players in the NBA. This was proven in the 2006 playoffs when he climbed into the stands in aid of Avery Johnson's wife who was being harassed by fans.

Right now, Didier Ilunga Mbenga is only a bench player and rarely gets decent minutes on the court, but at only 27 years old he still has time to develop into a good backup center. He would be a good player to backup Andrew Bynum when he returns from injury.

If Mbenga is able to remain with the Lakers, then he has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to help him further develop into an NBA center.