Magic center Bismack Biyombo has been carrying around a book titled, “A Happy Pocketful of Money.”
It’s no secret that Biyombo is happy to have more than a pocketful. He is a walking Brinks truck – and is built like one, too.
The Magic made him a rich young man, handing him a four-year, $72 million contract as a free agent. Seventeen million a year is quite a raise, considering Biyombo made $3 million last season with the Toronto Raptors.
All that Magic money is wonderful for the 24-year-old who grew up poor in the Congo. He can take care of his family for generations and keep helping the struggling people in his homeland.
But that lottery windfall also comes with a target on Biz’s broad back.
His stunning deal during the NBA’s wildest, witless spending spree caused execs to scoff and the media to rip the Magic for paying an offensively challenged back-up starter money. Frankly, it’s hard not to join the chorus.
Biyombo is the club’s highest-paid player along with Evan Fournier, but he is expected to come off the bench behind Nikola Vucevic.
Signing another center made little sense to critics, especially after Orlando had acquired another big in a draft-day trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder: Serge Ibaka.
Sports also is a numbers game, and players are judged by statistics and analytics.
Biyombo will not wow the casual observer with his scoring. His offensive moves can be cringe-worthy.
The Magic signed him largely to upgrade their woeful defense with his non-stop energy and effort, hoping to turn it into a strength, if not an identity.
So rebounds, blocked shots and deflections from Biyombo’s dirty work – the inspiring hustle plays he calls his “obligations” – will show up more on his worksheet. He’s already emerging as a leader on that end.
But there also will be nights when Vucevic commands the most minutes when Orlando needs scoring, leaving Biyombo with a barren box score that won’t jibe with his bloated bank account.
His captivating success story – growing up, he often played barefoot on a crude, wooden goal his father built – is heartwarming. But money certainly can change the way people view athletes, and Biyombo’s paycheck puts him squarely in the critics’ crosshairs.
“People say things, say I can’t do this, do that … but all that matters to me is winning,” he told me. “I’m really not going to care. I’m playing for my teammates. I love the game. I don’t take a day off. I don’t miss games. If I give 150 percent, I can go home happy.”
A five-year veteran, Biyombo already was set financially, earning nearly $16 million in Charlotte and Toronto.
He said real pressure for him was overcoming long odds to find a way to the NBA “to make a better life for myself and my family. I just wanted to fulfill my dream. I’m getting paid to live my dream.”
It’s why Biyombo reaches down and taps the floor after the playing of the national anthem, the ritual reminding him, “I made it here.”
Said Biyombo’s agent and former NBA guard, B.J. Armstrong, “Biz is comfortable in his own skin. If there is any pressure, it will be something on the exterior.”
Added Biyombo, “I enjoy playing basketball, not just for the money. I’m very happy about it.”
He is genuinely congenial and impossibly pleasant, firmly grounded and lacking any sense of entitlement.
He’s something of an old soul, passing through life with an upbeat, infatigable spirit on the court and off. It’s his best defense. Hard to imagine anything getting him down for long – another trait that can’t be quantified but appealed greatly to the downtrodden Magic.
Reading David Gikandi’s book, “A Happy Pocketful of Money” has only reinforced Biyombo’s belief about what makes a man truly rich.
A review of the book on Amazon.com practically speaks to the dangerously alluring NBA lifestyle.
“True wealth is not about buckets of cash. True wealth is not about designer clothes. It is not about a new Mercedes. It is not about living in a palatial estate,” it reads, in part. “True wealth, asserts David Gikandi, is about discovering value within yourself and value within other people.
“It is about a kind of conscious living that incorporates gratitude, a belief in abundance, and the experience of joy.”
Memo to critics: Beware of Bismack Biyombo’s boundless joy.