Mbenga playing for the Hornets.
|Born||December 30, 1980|
|Listed height||7 ft 0 in|
|Listed weight||255 lbs|
|NBA Draft||2004 / Undrafted|
|2007||Golden State Warriors|
|2008-2010||Los Angeles Lakers|
|2010-2011||New Orleans Hornets|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Profile at NBA.com|
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga (born December 30, 1980) is Congolese-Belgian professional basketball player who plays at Center for the New Orleans Hornets of the NBA. He comes from Congo and was signed to a two year contract by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2004 offseason. Since then, he has played for teams such as the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga was born in and lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for seventeen years as the son of a family involved in the Congolese government. When his father's term was over, the new regime hunted down everyone who worked for the previous leaders. His father died in unknown circumstances and it is unclear if the new regime were the ones behind it. During the war between the Tutsis and the Hutus Ilunga-Mbenga was falsely accused of being Tutsi and was put in a prison with execution waiting on him in the long run. In the year 1999, after a whole nine months being heavily mistreated in prison, Ilunga-Mbenga managed to escape after his brother bribed one of the prison guards. Fearing for their lives, Ilunga-Mbenga and his mother got on a flight out of Congo as soon as possible. The first available flight lead him to Belgium where they were given political asylum. Later on, he would also pick up the Belgian nationality.
Once in Belgium, Ilunga-Mbenga stayed at an asylum center in the town of Kapellen, where he was spotted on the streets by Belgian basketball legend Willy Steveniers. Impressed by his physical appearance, he offered to teach Ilunga-Mbenga the game of basketball. In the time to come, Steveniers would serve as Ilunga-Mbenga's personal basketball mentor as well as substitute father.
Road to the NBA
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga had not even seen a basketball until the age of 19. He was seldom used in games by the Mavericks' coaching staff. Although he's shown spurts of defensive talent in very limited playing time, mostly at the end of games which already have been decided, the African native didn't show much on the offensive end. However, he retained a devoted following of fans in Dallas. So much, in fact, that the Mavericks have started selling his jersey shirts, which have sold with surprising success.
When the 2005-06 season concluded, Didier became an unrestricted free agent. Didier-Mbenga extended his contract with the Dallas Mavericks for three seasons for an approximated $2 million USD a year. Ilunga-Mbenga was waived by the Mavericks in order for them to sign Juwan Howard. On November 17th, 2007, Ilunga-Mbenga was signed to play with the Golden State Warriors under the direction of his old coach in Dallas, Don Nelson. On Sunday, January 6, 2008 he was waived by Golden State. Later that month, on January 21, 2008 he was signed to a 10-day contract by the Los Angeles Lakers. On February 11, 2008 the Lakers signed Ilunga-Mbenga for the rest of the 2007-2008 season.
On March 6, 2009 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mbenga scored a career high 10 points on 4-5 shooting with 4 rebounds and 5 blocks in just 17 minutes. On June 14, 2009 D.J. won his first NBA Title with the Los Angeles Lakers.
With starting forward Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum injured, Mbenga made his first start for the Los Angeles Lakers on November 6, 2009 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Two days later, Mbenga recorded his first career double double with 10 points and 12 rebounds in addition to 4 blocks against the New Orleans Hornets. On April 9, 2010 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mbenga set a new career high by scoring 11 points. On June 17, 2010, Mbenga won his second NBA title after his Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in the Finals.
During his stay in Los Angeles, he has become a crowd favorite and been nicknamed "Congo Cash".
On October 13, 2010, he signed with the New Orleans Hornets.
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga is a solidly built big man that runs the floor extremely well. Due to his inexperience and lack of basketball experience, he aggressively goes for blocks that often lead to fouls or open shots for the man he is supposed to be guarding. His offensive game at the moment is very limited to non-existent. Nonetheless, he remains a coach's favorite, for his willingness to compete and the heart he puts into the game of basketball. On February 13, 2006, Ilunga-Mbenga had a career high five blocks in 15 minutes against the New York Knicks.
In the 2006 playoffs he was suspended 6 games without pay for entering the stands. He saw coach Avery Johnson's wife being disturbed by some fans, and reportedly went into the stands with owner Mark Cuban to help usher Mrs. Johnson to the locker room. Regardless of his intentions, the NBA's Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson maintained a hard line against players entering the stands (a direct result of the infamous Pacers-Pistons Brawl of 2004-05), suspending him for six games without pay.
Mbenga speaks many different languages including two languages from the Congo, French, Portuguese, and limited English.
- Played three seasons in the Belgian League averaging 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds.
- Is close friends with fellow Congolese Dikembe Mutombo, formerly of the Houston Rockets.
- When asked about watching the Finals from home, Mbenga remarked, "Sometimes, I can't watch. When I start watching, especially when Diop or Erick have foul trouble, I get mad. I might shoot the TV." (Dallas Morning News Page 5C June 16, 2006).