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D.J. Mbenga brings hope, championship ring to his native Democratic Republic of Congo

June 29, 2010 |  3:36 pm

Visiting his native Democratic Republic of Congo, Lakers center D.J. Mbenga sported his 2009 championship ring for all the citizens to see.

Even if he played a marginal role in securing the Lakers' second consecutive title, Mbenga's ring symbolized hope for a country ravaged by poverty, violence and corruption.

"All we have are sports," Mbenga said. "That's why all these kids listen to you easily. But they won't listen to politicians. They don't trust the political people."

Mbenga's visit over the weekend coincided on the 50th anniversary of Congo's independence from Belgium, yet the area's still suffering with rebellions forcing a reported quarter of a million people from homes. Mbenga's limited playing time; the eye, head and ankle injuries he suffered this season; and the uncertainty of whether the Lakers will keep him once he becomes an unrestricted free agent Thursday heavily pales in comparison to the problems facing his native country.

That's why he makes sure to give back. He donated a basketball court in Kobe Bryant's name to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He visited South Africa during the last off-season for the NBA's Basketball without Borders campaign and shared the issues Congo faces. And he shared his aspirations to become president of his native country one day.

"I always dream to be president. I like politics," said Mbenga, who joked that Lakers spokesman John Black would serve as what Mbenga called his "special secretary." "I know more on politics than you know I do. I love to see kids be educated. I know it's very important. When you have a good education, you save the world. Especially for young women, they always say when you educate a women you educate the world. What's going on in my country now is a lot of bad stuff."

-- Mark Medina

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