The Charlotte Hornets might be owned by a Tequila-loving sports legend, but the young team has a roster of wine lovers, led by 6'9'' center Bismack Biyombo. The Congolese basketball star, a first-round pick in the 2011 NBA draft, has developed a passion for wine along his basketball journey.
Biyombo credits former teammate and NBA champion Boris Diaw for mentoring him during his rookie season on the then–Charlotte Bobcats and teaching him the basics of good wine. Biyombo has also traveled around Spain and France, and began tasting Rioja and Bordeaux wines while vacationing in Spain with Diaw.
As the NBA Finals approach, Biyombo spoke to assistant editor Shawn Zylberberg about growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), creating family memories over wine and his favorite sips today.
Wine Spectator: How did your love for wine start?
Bismack Biyombo: Boris Diaw influenced my love of wine when I was a rookie. He took me under his wing. I tried wine with him and observed his love for wine, and from there I started trying new bottles every now and then. The passion really started when I went to Spain with Diaw in 2015. We were on vacation in Malaga and I asked the waitress for the best wine she had. The name of the Spanish wine was La Nieta [produced by the Eguren family at Viñedos de Páganos]. I remember it was real smooth and nice and I ended up drinking a lot of it.
When it comes to wine, Boris has it all figured out. If he can get some Bordeaux in his glass, he's really happy. When I saw him again in 2018 at the Quai 54 Streetball Championship in Paris, we shared a bottle of El Nido [from Jumilla] in a tiny restaurant. I admire his love for wine.
WS: Are you the go-to wine expert on the Hornets?
BB: I am the biggest wine guy on the team. Even the coach knows that if we go on a win streak, we're having some wine and hanging out. It's become a thing. Some of our young guys are curious and they ask me to send them wine recommendations. A lot of them are evolving in the wine world. LaMelo Ball is also curious about wine. I have not shared a glass with him yet. That would be a bad influence! [The 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year is only 19 years old.]
WS: Did wine play a role growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
BB: People drink beer in the DRC because it's affordable, so that was my upbringing. Now, when my parents visit me it's become a tradition where I save a really nice bottle and we'll drink and have a conversation together. The first time I shared a glass with them was in Orlando.
It felt very rewarding to have my parents in my house sharing a glass of wine. Them telling you stories of you as a kid and the visions they had for you as a kid…emotionally it feels good. I got into wine more so because we are exposed to a lot of things in the U.S. and then even back home in DRC my parents have become more exposed to information about wine. I don't know when the last time I heard my dad say he had beer!
WS: How is wine incorporated into your strict diet?
BB: I see wine as a reward you give your body. I'll go through a stretch of a week of strict diet and sleep and then I'll observe how we're playing and from there I'll be like, 'I think I've earned myself a nice glass,' and share it with friends to celebrate. They don't know much about wine but they drink it.
WS: Do you have a wine cellar?
BB: I have a small cellar in both my homes in Charlotte and Miami. I like to keep wine in both places so I have the flexibility. My chef gave me a bottle of '94 Amarone that I'm waiting to open.
WS: What are your favorite wine regions?
BB: Napa is up there, Rioja too. I'd put those two out there. I've had some very great Malbec out of Argentina too. I'd put those three as my top regions. But I keep my mind open.
WS: You established a foundation in 2016. What is the goal of the Bismack Biyombo Foundation?
BB: We have a chance to help kids with education and opportunity in the DRC. I didn't grow up with a lot of opportunities and I think it's important to create opportunities for other kids and give them chances to grow. We were giving scholarships to kids and then the idea to build local schools came up. We're under construction for our second school now. We jumped into refurbishing basketball courts and donating medical packs as well. I love kids; they're the future of the world.