“You promised me I was going to reach the NBA …”
Those were the first words Skal Labissiere said to his father after he was successfully dug out of the rubble of his Porte-au-Prince home following the Haitian earthquake on January 12, 2010.
The 6-foot-7 13-year-old, along with his mother and brother, were dragged out of the wreckage of his home. A wall had fallen on him, pinning him in the seated position for three hours. He couldn’t move his legs and spent the next few weeks of his life living in a school-turned-makeshift-shelter trying to learn how to walk again.
Skal is lucky to be alive. He came to the United States because he played basketball. He didn’t know the language. He left his family behind to go to a private Christian school in Memphis where no one spoke his native French or Haitian-Creole. He taught himself English and he prayed for a better life.
It’s a harrowing tale that has been rehashed countless times. Labissiere even wrote about it himself for the Players' Tribune leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft. It’s well worth a read.
Make no mistake, Labissiere is a proud Haitian-born young man. He even made such a statement earlier this week in the Kings locker room while the players were involved in a lively discussion about hairstyles.
He is from one of those ‘Shithole Countries’ the President of the United States described during meetings involving DACA and border security.
Labissiere isn’t going to talk about politics. He’s not going to rip into the President with a worthy sound bite. He didn’t even want to talk about Haiti when storms ravaged the Caribbean Island last year.
It’s tough to balance what is going on in our country and in the world today. As a sports reporter, you try to stay out of the fray politically. Despite having a platform, there is always going to be the “stay in your lane” contingency out there.
I know a little about Haiti. But I know a lot more about Skal Labissiere.
In the past 18 months since the Kings drafted the talented 21-year-old out of the University of Kentucky, we’ve gotten to know each other. He’s been a guest on the Kings Insider podcast multiple times and we’ve had plenty of both on-the-record and off-the-record conversations.
What I can tell you is that Labissiere is good people. He is respectful, caring and deeply religious. He is also funny and someone you hope finds success.
I can also tell you that his teammates love him. The Sacramento Kings organization loves him. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would have a negative thing to say about the young man.
It’s not about whether he is a good basketball player or not. It’s who he is as a person that makes Labissiere special. He has a smile that lights up a room, and he works as hard or harder than any player in the building.
Skal wants to be great. He does the work to be great, but when things aren’t going his way on a basketball court, he is the first off the bench to cheer on his teammates.
You can tell when things aren’t going as planned. He quietly wears his emotions and frustrations in his body language. But he always makes time and he never complains about his situation.
Skal Labissiere represents the best the league has to offer. He spent his summer planning and conducting a youth basketball camp in Haiti. It was the first time he was able to return home since he left in 2010.
Labissiere isn’t the only good guy in the Kings locker room. They have plenty. But his story is unique.
Skal is an incredible representative of the NBA, Sacramento and his native Haiti. The league is a better place with him in it.