Featuring: Jonathan Kuminga
Photography: Robert Holland
Art Direction: Paulo Rafael
Interview: John Elliott

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In 2021, the Golden State Warriors drafted Jonathan Kuminga with the No. 7 overall pick. We Linked up with the rising star in San Francisco to get insight into his journey from The Congo, to AAU, and finally, his elevation into the NBA league where his explosiveness on the court is sure to make him a household name. In the editorial spread, Jonathan wears our newest AAU Short colors, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Shark,’ dropping Sunday, March 20th at 8AM PST.

John Elliott:

Jonathan, first of all thank you for doing this. I’ve done some research on you and find you to be fascinating. You grew up in the Congo, I saw your brother plays at UNLV, and that’s how you came over to the US. What was that transition like?

Jonathan Kuminga:

Coming from out there (The Congo), everything was super different. Where I came from, we didn’t have all these types of things. Especially photoshoots, that’s one of the things we didn’t have. There’s a lot of things out here in America that we didn’t have back home.

John:

So, to that point, when you arrived in America, where did you arrive first, and what was that like?

Jonathan:

I landed in DC. Landing there, without speaking English, knowing nothing - It’s one of the biggest airports. I had to figure out the way to find another flight, because I had a connecting flight to North Carolina. The school that I was supposed to go to had a tournament out there, but the school was from Virginia - so we drove from North Carolina to Virginia after that.

John:

So, to that point, when you arrived in America, where did you arrive first, and what was that like?

Jonathan:

I landed in DC. Landing there, without speaking English, knowing nothing - It’s one of the biggest airports. I had to figure out the way to find another flight, because I had a connecting flight to North Carolina. The school that I was supposed to go to had a tournament out there, but the school was from Virginia - so we drove from North Carolina to Virginia after that.

John:

Coming from the Congo, landing in DC, and driving from DC to Virginia…If you can, try to remember, What was the food like? What were your thoughts on the food in that region of the US?

Jonathan:

Well actually, when I first got to North Carolina, and we stopped to get food, I got sick. They gave me some onion rings. I’d never had that before, and I got sick for like two straight days. After that, I really didn’t want to eat anything but bananas, juice, and stuff like that. They gave me some stuff I’d never had before, and I was excited to see what American food tasted like, but they gave me the wrong stuff I think.

John:

I’m sorry to hear that. That’s the thing right? Great food here is really incredible, but the average here can be low, so I can see how that could happen.

Jonathan:

I’m actually used to it now, because I’ve been here for a good minute.

John:

Like I said, I researched you and I read that a lot of your intros to American culture were through the internet, which makes sense. You used to go to an internet cafe and watch NBA highlights. Besides NBA highlights, what else were you guys watching to have a peek into what was happening over here?

Jonathan:

Back home, if you ask any kid growing up, they’re going to tell you the most famous cities are New York, Miami, Chicago, LA. So we used to just Google about those types of cities, to see how they look, so we have the image in our head of what those cities look like. Then I came out here, and saw it with my own eyes.

John:

How about this? For us, who aren’t from Congo, could you paint a picture of what that’s like, for American kids that might be reading this?

Jonathan:

I was playing prep schools, and once I stayed two to three months, the coaches from my school wanted me to play AAU. My brother came to America six months before me, so he knew what everything was about. He wanted me to play in North Carolina because that was close to Virginia. So that’s how I ended up playing AAU. I had good skills, I worked hard. When I went out and played against some top ranked schools, I’m not going to say destroying, but I was doing really good, to a point where certain scouts, people that do rankings, started to see me. That’s how I think I became a five star recruit.

John:

Transitioning to basketball, when you were 14, you were a five star recruit. I grew up playing ball, that was my number one sport. When I played AAU, there were no five star recruits in the bay area in my time growing up. When you were that age, did you understand how good you were at hoops? More to that point, when did you first start playing basketball?

Jonathan:

I first started playing basketball at the age of two. I came from a family that played sports. My mom used to play basketball and volleyball. My dad was really into basketball. He had a chance to come to America and be a professional, but he didn’t choose that path. That’s when he married my mom - he retired and didn’t want to play anymore. Even if he didn’t make it to his dream, I am his dream, my brother is his dream. So we got to play a sport that our parents loved before, and we ended up loving it, so that’s how and why I first started playing.

Coming up to America, I didn’t know about kids being ranked, and all of that. I just came out to hoop, because I love basketball, and to go to school. When you get a free scholarship - school can be expensive - and your parents get that chance for you to go to school, no kid’s going to let that down. So that’s what really pushed me even more into basketball.

John:

So that transition, you came over at 14, at that point were you playing AAU, or was it just prep schools?

Jonathan:

I was playing prep schools, and once I stayed two to three months, the coaches from my school wanted me to play AAU. My brother came to America six months before me, so he knew what everything was about. He wanted me to play in North Carolina because that was close to Virginia. So that’s how I ended up playing AAU. I had good skills, I worked hard. When I went out and played against some top ranked schools, I’m not going to say destroying, but I was doing really good, to a point where certain scouts, people that do rankings, started to see me. That’s how I think I became a five star recruit.

John:

This initiative that the brand’s kicking off is called “AAU to the League.” Can you remember the moment that lightbulb went on in your head, when you thought, “I might have a chance to play in the league.” Where were you, and how did your mentality shift at that moment?

Jonathan:

The crazy thing is, for me it was just the love of basketball. It still is. I didn’t have any idea of, “Oh, one day I’ll make it to the league.” I never really put that in my mind, because I felt like, if I put that in my mind, I may not accomplish what I did. So, I wasn’t really worried about going to the league, I just wanted to stay at the head of my class, be the number one player, and I felt that if I went on that same path, I would end up getting drafted. That was all that was in my mind at the time.

John:

Shifting gears slightly, this year the league has taken notice of not only your talents, your fashion, but also your hair styles. Talk me through where you’ve gone with your hair, and what you’re thinking about doing next?

Jonathan:

With me, it’s just a look. I don’t judge people, and the same way I don’t like people judging me. Whatever I do with my hair, it’s just a look that I want to try, you know? Just express myself. I went a couple weeks with the afro, and a lot of people were liking it. But then we were losing a couple games, so a lot of people said, you need to bring back the braids. But I didn’t believe we were losing because of that.

John:

Wait a minute, people were blaming the losing streak on your afro?

Jonathan:

A lot of people. I posted some pictures on Instagram, and people commented, “You gotta bring the braids back, the afro is making you play bad.” Then I saw someone say, “Since Kuminga came back with the braids, now they’re 2-0.” I’m thinking, it’s not the braids, it’s just that time of year people start losing, some people are getting tired. We’re back to where we want to be, so I don’t think it’s my hair style, it’s just basketball.

John:

That’s right. I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, so this will be the last question.

You did it. You came over here, you rose up the ranks of not only prep school, but AAU, and made it to the league. You’ve made a massive impression in the league and to all the fans who consume the league on a nightly basis.

What’s been the highlight to you? Not necessarily a play, but when you reflect on what’s happened to your life for the last twelve months, what’s something you sit back and consider the highlight?

Jonathan:

The biggest highlight for me is not about basketball. The way I fought to get my parents out here, especially right before the draft, I hadn’t seen them in six years. So that was the biggest highlight. Beyond that, sharing the court with Steph Curry, breaking the record, that’s some legendary stuff that a lot of people aren’t able to contribute to or witness, so that’s another one.

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