Rising Star Jonathan Kuminga relishes support from NBA fans in Africa

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When players put on their jerseys during NBA All-Star weekend, most feel a sense of pride for their franchise, their city, their family and their hometown. For Warriors rookie Jonathan Kuminga, that pride extends to the entire continent of Africa.

The 19-year-old Wednesday was named a replacement player for the Rising Stars competition, where he will be among the top 28 rookies, sophomores and G League players competing in a three-game mini-tournament Friday.

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Of the 58 players invited to NBA All-Star weekend, three hail from Africa – Kuminga (Democratic Republic of Congo), All-Star Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Rising Star Precious Achiuwa (Nigeria). Following Wednesday night’s heartbreaking 117-116 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Kuminga discussed his African pride and how he’s becoming an even bigger attraction than Steph Curry back home.

"From what I know, a lot of people back home, not just home, Africa, whenever we play, a lot of people don’t go to sleep,” Kuminga said. “They’re always trying to stay up and watch the game. Even if I got Steph on the team, most of it is they wanna watch Jonathan. It’s one of the biggest feelings. It’s a good feeling having a continent cheering for you."

Kuminga hails from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), a country of roughly 93 million people that is rife with poverty and reeling with the fallout of two wars in the 1990s and 2000s.

Kuminga and his older brother immigrated to the United States separately in order to follow their hoop dreams as high schoolers. Kuminga is also cousins with Emmanuel Mudiay, a 2015 first-round pick who most recently played a 10-day contract with the Sacramento Kings in December while COVID-19 ran through the league.

At the age of 13, Kuminga started his stateside basketball journey that included stops at three prep schools in West Virginia, New York and New Jersey before he graduated early and played a measly 13 games with the G League Ignite before getting drafted. Kuminga is just beginning.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Connor Letourneau wrote a fantastic feature detailing Kuminga’s journey that I highly recommend reading if you want to learn more.

As Kuminga’s quote made the rounds on Twitter Wednesday night and Thursday morning (in the States), NBA fans from Africa chimed in to confirm Kuminga’s statement.

Twitter user @luca____26 is from Rwanda:

Twitter user @thejohnbabalola is from Nigeria:

Twitter user aka_gorgee is from Ghana:

Twitter user @Anganile1 is from Malawi:

It's a small sample size, but you can see that Kuminga's reach extends beyond DRC's borders.

Klay Thompson called it a “travesty” when Kuminga wasn’t originally named to the Rising Stars rosters. The No. 7 overall pick started the season buried on the Warriors’ veteran-laden depth chart but has forced himself into Steve Kerr’s rotation over the past few weeks. Now Chris Duarte’s injury has opened up another door for Kuminga in the NBA’s Rising Stars showcase.

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On any given night, the teenager can look like the best player in the arena.

He already has an impressive frame at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds and crazy explosion off the floor. Kuminga held his own in last week’s high-profile matchup against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers and has thrown down some menacing dunks the past few weeks. In eight February games (three starts), Kuminga is averaging 26.3 minutes, 15.3 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 60.3 percent from the floor.

On Wednesday night, he calmly knocked down both of his 3-point attempts en route to 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Your imagination can run wild on his ceiling. With a few of his high-wire dunks Friday, Kuminga could become a household name in America.

You already know Africa will be tuning in.

“Everybody’s really happy,” Kuminga said. “Especially me making it as a Rising Star and representing my teammates, my team, my family and everybody back home. It feels good.”