America still holds the torch with the NBA

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Recent times have seen many people decry the loss of prestige that America has suffered by way of the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other fiascoes. But I can point to a story that has touched my life that clearly shows how America still holds the torch of liberty and freedom for all the world to see.

The Lakers recently signed Didier “D.J.” Mbenga to a contract with an eye to solidifying our bench. His  story has helped me to see how much freedom and opportunity mean in the world today. D.J.’s dad was involved in the regime of Mobutu Sese Seku in the Congo. He was an administrator in this regime. Politics in that part of the world are in many ways a minefield, but Mr. Mbenga did his job and was able to send his family to live in Belgium. D.J. lived in Belgium from the age of 6, but his father felt that the family should return to the Congo to see first-hand what their homeland was all about. The timing of their visit was most unfortunate. D.J.’s father was implicated in an attempted coup and imprisoned immediately, along with other family members. He never returned from the lockup. D.J. was imprisoned also and would have  met the same fate as his dad if  not for a relative who was able to secure the family’s release by bribing their jailers. A flight was arranged for their escape, and they made it by the slimmest of margins. There were threats to shoot down the flight as it took off, but somehow the Mbengas made it back to Belgium.

D.J.’s athletic potential has made it possible for him to have an opportunity to play in the NBA. He is a quiet, cheerful young man with a positive outlook, and he is so thankful for the opportunity to play basketball. His story should serve as an example of how lucky we are to live in a country with the many rights and opportunities so that many cannot dream of in the rest of the world.

Have no doubt about it, the torch of liberty that  is held high in New York Harbor sheds a very special, wonderful light. We who live here are truly privileged.

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