Few people on earth travel as often as professional athletes. With On the Road, the GQ Sports Travel Questionnaire, they’re weighing in on everything from room service to flying comfortably to their favorite chain restaurants.
In basically the blink of an eye, Jonathan Kuminga went from a child playing basketball in his native Democratic Republic of Congo to an American boarding school student—and eventually to first-round draft pick and NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors. Upon his 2016 arrival at Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia, Kuminga had never seen snow. Just six years later, as a 19-year-old rookie, he became the second-youngest player to ever hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.
It’s been quite a journey from Mountain Mission to the top of the basketball world—Kuminga attended three different high schools and skipped college to play in the G League, a path that instilled a maturity beyond his years. And while he’s still got plenty on his bucket list, the youngster has already seen and done a lot. Just don’t ask him what day of the week it is.
Congo is, frankly, not a place that most Americans know very much about. When you moved here, what sort of questions did you feel like you were always answering about your childhood?
There were a lot of people—mostly American people—who would always ask if Africa is a jungle, or crazy questions like, “What is it like to be African?” Now, more and more people have been to Africa so they kind of have that experience, but around the time I came here, there weren’t a lot of people who had been. I told them, it’s exactly the same as growing up anywhere!
What were some of those things that you had never seen or experienced before?
I’m not going to lie to you, it was mostly just the cities, and how bright they are all the time. When I got here, that was like, Oh wow. I guess I’m in America now!
That was definitely based on basketball. When you’re an athlete coming from Africa—or coming from anywhere that’s not America—they usually recruit you. If they like you and they like your game, they’ll send you an I-20 [Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status form] to come to America. That’s what happened.
I started playing basketball at a very young age, and if I’m being real, my dreams and my goals were never to play in the NBA. Growing up, I didn’t think about that until my sophomore year in America. I had good skill, and I was ranked, but I never put my mind to playing in the NBA because I didn’t want to overthink anything I was trying to accomplish.
When I was younger, I was just a happy kid playing in Congo. I don’t know if I knew my level yet. I was just playing. We had some coaches that were coming back from America, and that’s when I found out, “Yo, I have a chance to leave my country, go play basketball, and study for free.” I started putting the work in every single day and fell in love with basketball way more. That’s when I got the chance to come out here.
That first school—Mountain Mission School in Virginia—was that out in the country?
It was definitely the country! I got there in November or December, so I think the adjustment was going from regular weather—not cold, only rains sometimes—to freezing. That was my biggest adjustment. I was excited because we didn’t have snow growing up, but when I got here, it became serious because it was cold! I liked that I was getting used to it every day, but that was the biggest adjustment, and trying to fit in with the people.