While growing up in Douala, Cameroon, Pascal Siakam barely watched the NBA. But he took up basketball, he wrote back in 2016 for The Players’ Tribune, because his father dreamed for one of his sons to reach the NBA.
But Tchamo Siakam never got to see his son reach the top level of the sport, dying from injuries he sustained in a car accident in 2014. The younger Siakam, then living in the United States, missed his father’s funeral at the urging of his mother, Victoire. Her reasoning: His father would have wanted him to keep playing.
Siakam, 25, has done that ever since, and he has taken to writing “RIP Dad” on his shoes during playoff games for the Toronto Raptors.
On Thursday, Siakam made history by leading the Raptors to their first win in the NBA Finals, 118-109, over the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 in the best-of-seven series. He did it all, finishing with a team-high 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting, with eight rebounds, five assists, a steal and two blocks.
“I’m just doing it for my dad,” Siakam said to ESPN’s Doris Burke on the court at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Back when he was 18, Siakam said, he would have thought someone was crazy to suggest he could do this.
“At that time I didn’t even know if I really dreamed of being at this level,” he said. “I couldn’t even think about this moment because it wasn’t reachable for me.
“But I think once I got to the point where I felt like I had a chance, I put everything forward and I just worked really hard. … I think that when I was 18 years old I didn’t think of it, but once I got to believing that it was possible, I put everything that I had to be at this level.”
While living in Cameroon, Siakam won notice playing at Luc Mbah a Moute’s camp in 2012, and he was invited to attend Basketball Without Borders. With his performance, he had the opportunity to play at an American prep school, and Siakam moved to Lewisville, Texas, attending God’s Academy and living with a host family.
By this point, all three of Siakam’s older brothers were either playing or had finished playing college basketball in the United States: Boris at Western Kentucky University from 2004-2008, James (Vanderbilt University from 2011-15) and Christian (Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis from 2008-12).
Siakam became the fourth, enrolling at New Mexico State University in 2013. But the following year, tragedy struck when his dad died. Starting then, Siakam was playing for him — and to keep the NBA dream alive.
The Raptors drafted Siakam in the first round as the 27th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft. His third season has been a breakout year, with him averaging 16.9 points per game in the regular season and 19.4 points per game in the playoffs.
After Thursday’s game, speaking with reporters, he was asked what his dad would think about how far he has come.
“I think it’s a question that I ask myself every single day, and I know I wish I had the answer,” Siakam said. “I know people always usually tell me that I know he’s proud of you, and I kind of want to hear it from his mouth, and I think it would be really cool.
“But for me, like I always say, man, it’s bigger than basketball, and every night that I go out there, I have a bigger purpose, and I play for something bigger than just basketball. And I think that’s what makes it special, that every night I’m out there, no matter the result, no matter how many points I score, I’m playing for something bigger than myself.”