I’m late. Pascal Siakam didn’t start playing basketball in an organized way until he was well into his 17th birthday. But he came to stay. Not even eight later he was proclaimed NBA champion, with the Toronto Raptors, also being a key player in that milestone, the largest for the Canadian franchise in its history. Another four years later he has taken his basketball to the highest avant-garde, the technical and positional fusion.
Siakam is one of those players without a brace, who cannot be limited. He acts indistinctly as a creator, finisher or soldier, also being able to face any defensive matchup with full guarantees, whatever the profile he is facing. The African could in the eyes of anyone not have a defined position because basically, and depending on the moment, his game comes to encompass them all.
It wasn’t always like this. When Masai Ujiri, current ‘General Manager’ of the Raptors, saw him for the first time in action, more than ten years ago in his native Cameroon, Siakam was just an embryo. One as profane in the fundamentals of the game as it is ubiquitous in its staging. And it is that he made up for his lack of technical resources with a presence and instinct out of the ordinary.
It was that, in fact, what made the renowned English executive fall in love. Such an internal fire, coupled with his particular athletic shape, which, although very thin, was feline and amazingly coordinated to exceed two meters, suggested that his limit could be the sky.
Despite the family tradition, with his three older brothers (Boris, Christian and James) receiving university scholarships to play in the United States, Siakam’s first serious contact with the sport of basket came, in his country, during the campus organized by the then professional player Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. It was the year 2011. One later he repeated and convinced. Then they informed him that he had been chosen to participate in the prestigious event ‘Basketball without Borders’, which serves as a bridge to access the dream of a new life among the elite for many young people.
It would not be until that year 2012 when Siakam understood that this event was the key to his future. Deep down, that young man was still saddened by the disappointment caused to his father years before, when he avoided the faith that he would have liked to develop. “I felt bad for not fulfilling his wish, I didn’t want to go against my father, I didn’t know a better man than him”, he would admit.
Tchamo, his father, admitted Pascal – at the age of 11 – to the St. Andrew’s seminary, in Bafia (Cameroon), with the idea of becoming a priest. An idea that, when Pascal was fifteen, already seemed discarded. And despite the fact that he endured in the seminary until he was 18, the end would end up being another. Father Armel Collins, in his care, argued that although he could not make Siakam a priest, he could teach that adolescent values that he would keep for a lifetime.
Although late, basketball would change Siakam’s life. Then he wouldn’t know it, but the opposite would also happen. After a brief stint in a small academy in Lewisville, Texas, during his freshman year at New Mexico State, Pascal could hear, with every phone call home, the pride in his father’s voice, for what he was doing. . It would tragically be another call, this time from his sister Raissa, the one that would end his life in October 2014.
His father, Tchamo, had died from injuries caused by a car accident in Cameroon. Raissa was calling to inform a Pascal that she was in shock. “I don’t remember anything else from that conversation.”, he would come to confess to the journalist Jackie MacMullan. What she hasn’t forgotten is what happened next: she couldn’t catch a flight to her father’s funeral.
His visa was still pending and, if he flew to Cameroon, there were options that he would not be able to return later. His brothers, even his mother, insisted that he not take that plane and seize the opportunity that basketball offered him. They defended that it was what his father would have liked. That’s how it would end up.
One of his brothers, James, would reveal that this event marked Pascal forever. His coach then at the university, Marvin Menzies, would delve into how. “He became much more obsessive with his development, he had a clear motivation to make his father proud.”, he would count.
Siakam’s path to the NBA was not easy. He was selected late in the first round of the Draft in 2016 and had to navigate the development league, with its high points and low points, until receiving a consistent opportunity in the Raptors. When she came to him, he did not miss her. Pascal played in her name and in the memory of her father.
His career, which at this point already includes different individual milestones and, above all, a championship as a key player for the Raptors (2019), does not understand difficulties but opportunities. It all comes down to looking forward and becoming the best version of him.
Thus, that lanky boy who on the verge of 18 barely dribble fluently and did not know the collective routines of a team is today, little more than a decade later, one of the most versatile and representative profiles of the new era in basketball. . And it is that not even his 25 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists per game do justice to his impact.
Pascal is a total player, as exuberant and tireless physically as he is technically refined, where his foundations in ball handling and passing ability have taken him to a level once imaginable.
Siakam showed up late. Today, however, his basketball points to infinity.
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