I told them, "Hell no, no surgery." [The doctors] told me I was going to be out for the rest of the playoffs: "The MRI showed that you are bleeding a lot in your calf and you're going to be out the rest of the playoffs." But my heart was telling me, "You're going to be back."
I didn't want to believe that God could let me down like that. I said "I'm not just going to sit back and watch the rest of the playoffs at home." I wasn't listening to them. They told me "This is dangerous, this is serious; you can't play like that." I was like, "Man, excuse me, I'm about to play. This is too early to happen to me. (1) I'm not getting surgery, and (2) Trust me, I'm going to be back to play. At least one game, at least Game 7 or Game 6 or whatever, I will play."
God and ice. The key was God and ice. I was icing 10 times a day, every day. 30 minutes ice, 30 minutes compression, all day just like that, all day on the couch.
It was not easy, that game, man. When I came back the first game, I was scared a little bit. My girlfriend was scared; she was thinking I was just going to play because of media pressure. And then my sister tells me, "I can't believe you are trying to play today, and yesterday you couldn't walk!" I said "Listen, whatever happens happens, but I need to be out there with my teammates."
I remember my first moment playing basketball. It was in the Congo. I think I was like 7 or 8. My mom and dad played basketball too, so my dad was always asking me to come to see him play. So one day one of the guys who was playing with my dad, he said, "Hey, let me teach you something." So he took an empty bottle of water and was using it as a ball and he said, "OK, take one step and do two and then jump -- that's all it is." I went back home, and all night I was doing it. All night. That's all I could think about. Even in the bathroom, I'm brushing my teeth and I start doing this. That's where everything started.
I wish I had more body parts that I could work out. If I had my way, I'd be in the gym all day. I love to lift. When I don't have basketball practice, I'll be in a gym for 2.5 hours - 30 minutes abs, 2 hours lifting.
It's much easier to get a six-pack if you're short. [Tall people] have long, long muscles, so to get a six-pack to come out is hard. I've been working on my six-pack for 10 years now. It's tough.
I had a poster of Kevin Garnett hanging in my room. He was one of my inspirations when I was young. I was at my friend's house -- he had a lot of money, so sometimes I'd go to his place to watch some NBA action. I remember the first time I saw Kevin Garnett, I just felt something in my body: "This feels like me." I loved his spirit and his passion. I just felt like it was me out there playing on the court.
My goal is the same every offseason. I work my body to be good. Working in the gym all summer makes me feel stronger in my game. Last summer I was in Vegas. I was waking up at 5 or 6 a.m., and I'd go out and run up a mountain in Vegas. I'd run the mountain, then come back, eat breakfast, go to the gym and play basketball and work on my game. Then I'd go box in the gym and do some lifting. It was like that for two months every day.
Winning Defensive Player of the Year. That's it, that's all I think about in my mind. Every time I'm about to give up, I think to myself, "You lost three years in a row Defensive Player of the Year." That's what I am going for. I feel like I have that gift and that talent, I feel like if I keep working and doing what I have been doing, then one day it will happen. I believe it, I really believe it.
If you put some work in, you can have this body. It's not because all basketball players have this body, no. I have this kind of body because I put a lot of work into it. I work out a lot.
It's not always about scaring your opponent. It's about everything that I do. Yes, to be viewed as one of the best defensive players in the league, you need to be able to be physical. But I need to show my quickness, I need to be active, I need to move my feet, I need to jump. To do this kind of stuff, you need to spend a lot of time in the gym.
My father was always pushing me to become a basketball player. In Africa, when you're a kid, every kid loves to play soccer, and I loved playing soccer. But my dad didn't want me playing soccer. He would joke, "C'mon, man, you're too tall!" Then he promised me, "If you start playing basketball, I'm going to give you my jersey." That's one of my favorite things from my dad is his old jersey. He played with No. 9, too. That's where I get my number from.
Our court was the street. We'd collect a lot of plastic bags that we'd put together and it would become like a basketball and we'd start shooting with it. It was expensive to have a basketball. We'd just hang some basket on the street -- something we could just shoot at where the ball could go in. We used a lot of things -- a tire from a bike. That's how we would play.
I like to always be able to contest shots. If you play against a player like Al Jefferson -- he likes to pump-fake, so you need to be alert and quick. If he pump-fakes you and you go up, when you come back you need to go right back up to contest his shot. I was doing boxing last summer, and that helped with my footwork, quickness and fitness. It helped with my timing.
My injury was nothing. Being from the Congo and going through what I went through when I was young and I make it to the NBA? I can do this easy. That's where I got my motivation to keep believing that I would be back.