Born in the jungle of Congo, it wasn’t easy to follow his dream of playing basketball, but perseverance, hard work and “God” helped Christ Wamba to overcome violence and poverty and reach one of Europe’s best leagues, overnight!
Christ Wamba, Bouassou, Joachim, Mossaic, Fidel, or just …Christ Wamba is a 17-year-old refugee – turned professional basketball player with Aris BC – who made an incredible journey from Congo to Greece alone.
Wamba was born and raised in the remote village of Betou, where hunger and civil unrest didn’t leave much room for hope. When he was nine, his parents left the young Wamba with a family friend he called ‘uncle’ in the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville, so he could go to school.
Spending all his money to buy his first ball, he was left without money for food or other necessities.
“I was playing basketball, I was coming back and there was no food. I was just drinking water and then I was going to sleep,” Wamba recalls in an exclusive interview with Greek Reporter’s Anastasios Papastolou.
Despite its rich resources in oil, Congo to this day suffers from widespread poverty while human rights violations are common.
Faced with violence, hunger and even jail time due to the political unrest for teenage Wamba basketball was a vital escape.
Tired of the hardships in his motherland, at fourteen he decided to find a better life in Europe. After a long and difficult journey, he ended up in Turkey.
”When I saw where we’d be living, I started crying. We were 22 people in a home and it was so dirty” Wamba recalls from the first days in Turkey. ”We started to work at 8 in the morning until 9 at night making clothes. But everyday after work, I had to play basketball, it was like my food”, he explains.
His next step was to try to reach Greece, along with other refugees. They paid some smugglers and then were left alone on a dinghy in the sea. ”We took the dinghy, it was at night, we made 5 hours. We were lost in the sea and people started crying. You could see the sea coming in the dinghy”, Wamba says. A rescue boat collected them as their dinghy was sinking and brought them to Moria camp on Lesbos.
Stranded in a refugee camp since March 2016 and waiting for his asylum application to be processed, Wamba’s mind was constantly on his big passion: Basketball.
”I started running to Mytilene to go in the court, it was so far away, I think maybe 15 kilometers” he says.
People loved him. In Moria, everyone was talking about the boy who always plays basketball. Eventually UNHCR helped him get accommodation in an apt in the city, away from the harsh conditions of the camp.
“If it wasn’t for the Greeks, I would have forgotten about my basketball” Wamba says.
After spending some time in Mytilene, the 17-year-old refugee was sent to Thessaloniki. There, he looked for a basketball club where he could play professionally. He tried to join the local team of Asteras, however Wamba was a refugee and could be granted legal documents only if an A-league team was interested in him.
“I was told I must try for the A-league, so i trained every day alone to prove myself.”
Practicing for 6-8 hours a day with the help of his Greek girlfriend, he hoped his dream was going to become reality. Then, a basketball friend told him about an online social network that helps athletes get discovered called ”Athlenda.”
After creating a profile and uploading a few videos showing his skills he was spotted by scouters of Aris, a historic Greek basketball team.
”They said they wanted to see me. On the first day, the coach liked me, so they said we want him, we will keep him for the team” Wamba says, remembering his first moments with Aris. Wamba signed with the Thessaloniki-based team on August 30th, 2018.
“I know I had a crazy life, but now it is happy time, it was what God planned for me” admits Wamba.
His new teammates call him the new Giannis Antetokounmpo or the new Lebron James. “If Lebron James is Lebron James only from practice, it means I will become like him, because I love basketball” Wamba notes.
”I can’t believe I was in Congo and today I’m here”, he says. Being a member of Aris Thessaloniki now, nothing seems to stop him from dreaming about the future.
“My big dream is to play in the NBA,” he notes.
”My first money will be to move my parents from the village to the city, for my brother to go to school and I’ll make a court in my village” he says with a bittersweet smile.
Since he left Congo, and even before when he was in the city with the “uncle,” he hasn’t heard his mother’s voice. “I haven’t spoken to my mom in seven years. My mom and my father don’t have connection,” he explains.
In fact nobody at his village or the surrounding area has a phone connection, so Wamba hopes once his papers are in order to visit his family.
”I also want to help kids who don’t have a family, that is my biggest dream,” he says.
Being only 17 years old, Wamba hopes that after a successful career in Greece, he could one day become an NBA player. His team, Aris, has noted that he is a very talented player, both physically and mentally and he’s the proof that the team is willing to invest in the future generation of players.
With such a support from such a big basketball club, it is sure that the best for Wamba and his career are yet to come…