On court with Rico Hines
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Basketball

Pascal Siakam talks early roots and untapped basketball talent in Africa

Here’s how Pascal Siakam emerged as one of the league’s top power forwards, and how he hopes to leave a lasting legacy on the league.
By Alastair Spriggs
Published on
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Pascal Siakam

CameroonCameroon
Only picking up basketball at the age of 17, Pascal Siakam’s incredible talent has taken him to an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors inside 10 years.
Pascal Siakam’s rise to NBA stardom with the Toronto Raptors is one of the most inspiring stories in modern-day sport.
Once destined to become a professional soccer player in his hometown of Douala, Cameroon, Siakam didn’t play organized basketball until the age of 17. Now, a decade later, he’s emerged as one of the leagues top power forwards and boosts an impressive on-court resume — which includes a MVP award, All-Star game appearances, and a historic NBA title win in 2019.
“I'm super grateful and proud of every accolade and accomplishment,” says Siakam. “I work really hard to get better and contribute to a winning team, so it feels good to achieve success.”
Throughout the 2020/21, he hasn’t slowed down. Siakam has averaged a team-leading 20.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and continues to dominate the highlight reel with his signature spin move.
Watch Siakam breakdown his signature move
Furthermore, Siakam’s dedication to progress and success extends far beyond the court. The same year he rallied the raps to a NBA championship, he also received the league’s Community Assist Award for his work with Right To Play, and the league’s Basketball Without Boarders program — the same program that introduced Siakam to basketball back in 2011.
“I’m proud to be an African player and hopefully an example for the new rising talent from Cameroon and all over the continent,” he added. “I was blessed enough to win a championship in Toronto and hopefully the visibility of being an NBA champion inspires others.”
Read on to learn more about Siakam’s incredible story and goals moving forward.
Basketball wasn't your first love, but soccer. What position were you and were you any good?
I was a striker. Soccer is really big in Africa and it was the first sport that I really loved – and I still do. I was pretty good. I think I would probably have played professionally if I'd stayed at it.
Is it fair to say you were the least interested in basketball out of your brothers?
All my brothers are older and started playing basketball before I was really into it. I guess because it was their thing I stayed more interested in other stuff, until I attended the Basketball Without Boarders camp.
When did you first play organised basketball for the first time and what clicked at that point?
I first played organised basketball when I was 17, after joining Basketball Without Borders. I earned an opportunity to attend prep school in the US and that was the beginning of everything.
Can you tell us about potentially becoming a Catholic priest. How did that come about?
I joined a boarding school to become a priest age 11. After I went to Basketball Without Borders and was able to come to the US for school, my dad thought that was a better opportunity for my future, because then I could get a scholarship for college with basketball. Education for my siblings and me was always most important to my parents.
Pascal Siakam poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, United States in November of 2020.
2.1m-tall and boasting a massive wingspan, Siakam was made for the NBA
How important is your family to you? I believe they’re central to your jersey number 43?
My family is the most important thing to me. I feel really lucky to have such a supportive family. My father has passed on, but my three brothers, two sisters and, of course, my mom are the most important people in my life and I really treasure our relationship.
My number 43 is to honour my family. The four is for my dad and brothers Boris, Christian and James, and the three for my mom and sisters Raissa and Vanessa. Before every game I pound my chest four times, then three times, then point to God.
I feel like Africa has the most untapped talent in the world
The ultimate in basketball is to be an NBA champion, so how special was that Raptors season?
That was incredible! Of course, every player wants to win a championship, but it was extra special to win for Toronto and all of Canada really. To bring that first championship trophy home and our team – those guys are my brothers forever, too. We went through a lot together and it was great to end the season as the best in the world. I'm also grateful to win a championship early in my career – it makes me want more.
As an individual, how special was it to make the All Star Team?
I'm super grateful and proud of every accolade and accomplishment. I work really hard to get better and contribute to a winning team, so it feels good to achieve success.
We've seen some fantastic players from Africa in the NBA. Does it still feel like there's a lot of untapped talent on the continent and do you hope you can inspire others to rise through the ranks?
Of course. I feel like Africa has the most untapped talent in the world. I'm proud to be an African player and hopefully an example for the new rising talent from Cameroon and all over the continent. I was blessed enough to win a championship in Toronto and hopefully the visibility of being an NBA champion inspires others.
And going back to your own career, it's still early days, so what else is there left for you to achieve in the game?
To win more championships and make an impact with my foundation in Canada and Africa.
Part of this story

Pascal Siakam

CameroonCameroon