The Oklahoma City Thunder have been surprising everyone these playoffs. Nearly everyone anticipated a Spurs-Warriors battle to see who would represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, as they had the best records in the NBA (particularly the record-breaking Warriors). Instead, the Spurs were handily defeated by the Thunder in 6 games in the semi-finals, and the Warriors are now down 3 games to 1 in the Conference Finals. Oklahoma City has played better than ever in their quest to return to the Finals.
One of those Thunder players is Serge Ibaka, one of their power forwards. Ibaka is a veteran at this point, playing with the Thunder his whole career. Known more for his defense, Ibaka came alive in Game 4 against the Warriors, scoring 17 points in the Thunders’ 118-94 blowout against Golden State. Like other Thunder players, Ibaka is looking to make his second trip to the NBA Finals with Oklahoma City. They’re one game away.
Here’s what you need to know about Ibaka.
1. His Block Against Tim Duncan Helped Effectively End the Spurs’ Season
San Antonio took a 2-1 lead in the semi-finals after Game 3. The Thunder’s future looked dicey against a team that had gone 67-15 in the regular season. But they came alive, and after three straight convincing wins they eliminated the Spurs in Oklahoma, with a 113-99 victory in Game 6.
San Antonio outscored Oklahoma City 34-22 in the fourth quarter, attempting to mount an incredible comeback. But a few key moments kept the Thunder alive, and one was a particularly notable play by Ibaka. With approximately three minutes left to go, Ibaka successfully blocked a pass attempt by Tim Duncan, causing Duncan to fall over and Russell Westbrook to recover the ball. USA Today called it the “saddest play” of the game. In eliminating the Spurs, NBA fans have possibly seen the last of Duncan, a Spurs legend in the twilight of his career. And that career may well have ended on an incredible block by Ibaka.
Ibaka has a history of that.
2. Ibaka Has Led the NBA in Blocks Per Game Twice & Made the First Team All-Defensive Team 3 Times
Ibaka has a reputation as an elite blocker, and the statistics back that up tremendously. Ibaka has been in the top 5 in blocks for the past 6 years – and in the first four, he was number one. As a result, he’s also led the NBA in blocks per game in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. He’s even the active leader in blocks per game with 2.48, ahead of the aforementioned Duncan.
The success Ibaka has had defending in the NBA hasn’t gone unnoticed. He made the First Team All-Defensive three seasons in a row starting with the 2011-12 season. This put him on the same All-Defensive teams with elite players like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Tony Allen.
3. The Seattle SuperSonics Drafted Him in the First Round & Let Him Play in Spain His First Year
Ibaka has been associated with the Thunder his whole career, even if they didn’t always have that name. In 2008, he was drafted 24th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics from Spain. Almost immediately after, the move from Seattle to Oklahoma City became official, and the team became the Thunder.
Surprisingly, after drafting him the Thunder allowed Ibaka to play another season in Spain. Thunder GM Sam Presti told NewsOK that “Serge’s athletic ability and energy at his position were things that intrigued us.”
4. He’s Dated R&B Singer Keri Hilson
Whether the relationship is current or in the past, Ibaka and pop star Keri Hilson have a history together. News of the couple goes back at least as far as 2012, when fellow Thunder star Kevin Durant hosted a birthday party for Hilson, best known for her 2009 hit song Knock You Down.
Hilson has gone public in the past about the relationship, which started through a mutual friend. In a point in 2014 when Ibaka was hurt and depressed, Hilson told USA Today that “Even though he didn’t say it, I knew he needed me. I needed to do anything I could to put a smile on his face. He didn’t have a smile on his face all week. It was very hard. It was really hard. He’s one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever seen in any field, one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever been able to witness.”
Hilson has also ranted on Twitter in the past about women using social media to seduce famous men in relationships.
5. Ibaka Has a Daughter Born in the Republic of the Congo When He Was a Teenager
If you were surprised to find out that Ibaka is a father, imagine how surprised he was. He left the Republic of the Congo as a teenager to play basketball in France, but shortly after his parents learned that he had gotten someone pregnant. Ibaka was unaware, and his family kept it a secret. The Source quotes Ibaka as explaining:
My dad told them, ‘Please, my son is young. He just left his family, his parents, his country, he’s too young. He don’t know nobody. He’s by himself. Please give don’t give my son pressure.
The secret could only be kept for so long, however, and eventually Ibaka was told in 2013 about his daughter, Ranie. For some time after he learned about and connected with Ranie, she continued to live in the Congo, and he would visit whenever he returned. But in September of 2015, according to NewsOK, Ranie made the move to live with her father in Oklahoma City. Ibaka’s said of Ranie, “She’s a gift from God. I try to do the best possible I can to be the best person I can be for her, to be there for her and support her.”