Inside the surprise that had Heat’s Chris Silva thinking he was ‘seeing a ghost’
By Anthony Chiang
Basketball worked to separate Chris Silva from his family. Seven years later, basketball helped to reunite Silva and his family.
A native of Gabon, Africa, Silva left his home country in 2012 just days away from turning 16 to come to the United States with a dream of making it to the NBA. Silva, now 23, had seen his parents and three brothers only once since then, and that was when he returned to Gabon for two weeks to renew his visa as a sophomore at the University of South Carolina.
But just hours prior to Friday’s home win over the Pacers, the Heat, the NBA and NBA Africa teamed up to surprise Silva with his mother, Carine Minkoue Obame, following the team’s walkthrough. It marked the first time he had seen his mother in three years.
Silva, who is playing on a two-way contract with the Heat, was caught completely off guard.
“As a matter of fact, I talked to her like two days ago and she was still back home on Christmas,” Silva said in advance of Saturday’s Heat matchup against the 76ers at AmericanAirlines Arena. “We were just talking, catching up and all that. I saw right after the walkthrough, I saw her walking in and I couldn’t believe who it was. I thought I was seeing a ghost. After I realized it was her, I couldn’t help myself. I was emotional.
“This is a great league. For them to do something like that for me means a great deal. It shows the heart of the people running the league and NBA Africa. I just thank them, I’m grateful for them doing this.”
The Heat documented the surprise. The video showed a shocked Silva as his mother walked onto the AmericanAirlines Arena court, with teammates and coaches huddled around him. It unfolded like this:
“The holidays also are really about being around the people you love, and mostly everybody feels very grateful that you’re able to spend that quality time,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to the team in the video, setting up the surprise for Silva.
“But I always think about Silva,” Spoelstra went on to say. “When was the last time you saw your family?”
“Three years ago,” Silva answered.
“We have a great surprise for you,” Spoelstra said. “Merry Christmas, brother.”
That’s when Silva’s mom walked through the tunnel and onto the court.
“That’s my mom!” Silva said in the video, seemingly in disbelief moments after realizing it was his mother and quickly bursting into tears.
Following Friday’s game, Spoelstra called it “one of the most special moments I’ve been a part of in this profession.”
“This has been in the works for about a month and I was so nervous bringing the group together,” Spoelstra said. “… To be a part of it as an organization, to be able to make this happen with the NBA and to be able to experience and have Chris experience this moment, it was really incredible. And hearing the gasps and the responses from his teammates is something I’ll keep with me for a long time.”
Heat wing Jimmy Butler said of Silva’s moment: “That’s love right there. Family is everything and that will always be bigger than basketball. For his mom to be here is special. He has been away from her for so long and he’s working incredibly hard. … I hope that they stay up all night and talk about what they missed over these past three years.”
When Silva first arrived to the United States from Gabon in 2012, he didn’t speak English and had never been on an airplane before the long trip. Once Silva made it to the United States, he attended and played basketball at Roselle Catholic High in New Jersey before playing four college seasons at South Carolina.
At first, the transition to the United States was a tough one.
“Coming here and not knowing anybody, speaking no English, it was a challenge at first,” said Silva, who did not play in Friday’s win. “Basketball just helped me get through all of this, get away from those sad moments. It definitely helped me get through all of this. Basketball then made my family come here, I’m just grateful for this game.”
Spoelstra remembers when Silva revealed his story to the team during training camp in early October. While Spoelstra didn’t know much about Silva’s background before the Heat signed him as an undrafted free agent this past offseason, he learned a lot about Silva in that moment.
“Back in training camp, one of the nights, one of our sessions, some of the young guys told their stories to the team and Chris’ story stood out,” Spoelstra said. “Incredible bravery on his part to be able to come to a new country, didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anybody, to chase a dream. We feel that we’re a place where we can make dreams happen. But I had goosebumps. Everybody has goosebumps when he was telling that story. Then to fast track three months to be able to be a part of something like this is something I’ll take with me for the rest of my career.”
Silva entered Saturday averaging 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 9.5 minutes in 25 games with the Heat this season. With two-way contract players allowed to spend up to 45 days in the NBA during the G League season and the rest of the time with their team’s G League affiliate, Silva has yet to be sent down to the developmental league.
The Heat will have enough room under the hard cap to convert Silva’s two-way contract to a standard NBA contract starting Jan. 14, and Silva has enough two-way days available to play in every one of Miami’s games before then. The Heat has an open roster spot with just 14 players currently under standard deals.
If Silva has his two-way deal converted to a standard NBA contract, that will be another memorable day. But Friday stands alone.
“Today has been crazy,” Silva said. “From seeing my mom and catching a good win, all that, it’s crazy. I’m shook.”
Silva will have his mother with him for the next 10 days. And he can’t wait to spend time with her.
“I don’t know much about Miami, but I’m going to find out about Miami,” Silva said. “I’m going to try to take her out to dinner to some nice places and spend a lot of time with her.”
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