When CSKA Moscow's Joel Bolomboy made his Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut in Round 8 against Zalgiris Kaunas, the competition welcomed a basketball player with a unique family background. The 25-year-old big man arrived in the Russian capital from Fort Worth, Texas, in the United States, which is where he grew up, but that does not even begin to tell his story.
"It seems like I have a little bit of everything in me," said Bolomboy, whose parents are from different parts of the world. "My dad is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and my mom is from Russia. I was born in Ukraine. At the time, that's where we were."
The story started in the early 1990s when Joel's father Joseph attended university in Moscow and met his mom Tania.
"At the time she only knew Russian," the 2.06-meter Bolomoboy explained. "And my dad, who is a really smart man and knows multiple languages, he spoke Russian, so that is how they communicated."
"In my young childhood, I moved between Ukraine, Russia, France and then the United States."
They got married right before Joel was born in 1994, in Donetsk, Ukraine. After Joel was born, they moved first to France, where his father's sister still lives and then to the United States in the late 1990s. It marked a new start for the family.
"In my young childhood, I moved between Ukraine, Russia, France and then the United States. I did not know any English. I only spoke Russian and French at the time, which I learned from my parents," he recalled. "My mom still only knew Russian. My dad already knew English as we got there, but I know my mom was going to school again in the US, learning English. And as I was growing up, I was picking up the language, too."
Joel, who also has three younger sisters, speaks three languages. Russian is his mother tongue and he picked up French from his dad. Eventually, he polished his English growing up in the States.
"I remember, as dad was working and my mom went to school, I was helping mom with schoolwork. Because I was learning English fast, picking it up quick, and it was good practice for me, too." Joel was automatically placed in English as a second language program in elementary school he attended, while at home still talked to his parents in different languages.
"I was still only comfortable speaking Russian and French to my parents. By the time I got to eighth grade is when I started speaking just English. But, for example, to this day I still speak French with my dad," he said.
Despite his so diverse and multicultural family background, Joel did not get to experience it as much as one would think. He has yet to visit Africa and his father's native land of DR Congo and he visited Ukraine only in 2014, while he was still in college playing basketball at Weber State University. The first time he came back to Russia was when he signed for CSKA.
Even after all the years away, his Russian began coming back fast. His decision to return to Russia triggered more excitement as his parents made it back to Russia after 20 years for a visit, too, and had a reunion with family, including his mom's sister, who still lives in Ukraine.
As for Joel and his basketball career, after starring in college and spending his first two professional seasons between the NBA and G-League, he came to Moscow and had no problem accepting his role as a EuroLeague rookie.
"I am learning from them. They have been doing a really good job of showing me how things are."
"A lot of the guys on this team have played in the EuroLeague, they have experience, so I am learning from them. They have been doing a really good job of showing me how things are, what to do in a game, what they see, what I need to work on what I need to look for," Bolomboy explained.
Since making his debut, Bolomboy has appeared in all but one game and used his limited minutes to quickly prove what kind of game-changer off the bench he could be. And if coming from a family of different backgrounds helped Bolomboy fit into the CSKA locker room, his mindset certainly fit right in with the expectations of a powerhouse the size of CSKA:
"What I am expecting [this season] is like everyone else is around here," said Bolomboy. "Winning the title, going all the way."