Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte
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!
How did the process of moving here unfold for you, and what went into the decision to move to Virginia?
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.
The school had a lot of Congolese people and a lot of Africans, Europeans, people from every country. That made me more comfortable because I was around people who also came from a different country. My goal wasn’t really to be super close, tight friends with them. My goal was to catch up, learn English quickly, and not speak French, Swahili, or Lingala or any of my languages with those people. At the time, there weren't really huge culture shocks. And any time we had a break I would go to New York, because I had family in New York. That’s when you really see the differences.
What were some of the more memorable things that you tried or experienced for the first time in America?
One thing I’ve never liked since I’ve been in America is onion rings! I remember when I first got here, they took me to some restaurant and I had to eat onion rings for the first time. I wasn’t a fan of it. Can’t do it. I like onions, but it depends on how you cook them. Then I got sick! I got sick because I wasn’t used to the different foods. The only thing I ate for a couple of days was fruit.
What were the things you missed the most from home?
Oh, man. Definitely everything! I missed every type of food. I missed my friends, but I was more mature growing up. Once I left, I missed my friends a little bit but I took myself out of that. I’m here for a reason. I’m here for a purpose. I cannot start thinking about who I left. I mean, I left my parents too! I didn’t really think about them every day, because once you start thinking about people you left behind, you really lose your focus. That’s why I think I was more mature than a lot of kids my age. Once you leave your parents, you feel like you can do anything.
After you won the championship in 2022, did you go back to Congo for the summer?
I did, and I wanted to bring the trophy, but it was a little complicated. There was some beef going on in Congo, something like that. Like you said, a lot of people don’t really know what’s going on in Africa. Everybody got afraid of going out there. Certain people who worked for the team—they were Americans—were scared because there was war, but we tried to explain that the place we were going wasn’t anywhere near that. I didn’t want to burden myself with that, so I just went by myself.
What was it like to return home as an NBA champion? Did people start acting different?
I wouldn’t say acting different, because I wasn’t really around too many people. But I went to see the president! I mean, you don’t really get a chance to just go and see the president and the first lady. It was fun, I enjoyed my time out there.
Have you been able to find good Congolese food in the Bay? Does that even exist?
Not Congolese, but I’ve found some African food. There’s some Nigerian food in the area. The only time I get to eat Congolese food is when we go to Orlando, because that’s where my parents stay now.
When you were a rookie in the NBA, which player were you most excited to play against?
I was just excited to be in the NBA! I wanted to go out there and get to work. I was looking forward to playing all the greats. There are things that we take for granted, but I’m always excited to play KD or LeBron, and play with Stephen Curry. It’s a pleasure, and a dream come true, because I used to watch those guys growing up. When those people are gone, that’s when I’ll start saying I wish I did this or I wish I did that.
When you get on the floor, it’s about basketball. I don’t even know who I’m playing. It don’t matter who it is. If I were to be excited about playing somebody, it’d be Kobe, but he was retired already.
As you started visiting a lot of major American cities for the first time, which ones were your favorite?
I mean, I’m a calm, chill person. I don’t get surprised about a lot of things. Different is normal for me. I’m never like, Oh my god! I had been to New York a lot of times; I’d been to Miami a lot of times. There really wasn’t any city [that wowed me], because before I got to the NBA, I had already traveled to a lot of the cities that I liked.
What about ones you immediately didn’t like?
I really don’t like Milwaukee. The last time we went, it was freezing. Hella cold! Detroit, there’s not much to do out there. Memphis, I barely leave the hotel room. It’s just a lot of cities. A lot of them are not that great!
Do you still like hotels or has that gotten old yet?
It gets annoying or boring sometimes. We travel way more than a regular person. It’s forty-something times a year and you’re always in hotels. On a road trip, we’ll be in hotels for five to seven days. That’s when it gets annoying and you really want to go home.
What are the things you like in a hotel room?
You gotta have snacks for days. The bed has to be comfortable, because you can’t sleep in a bed that’s not comfortable and go play. You’ll hurt your back! Snacks and comfort. I try to take a nap on game days. My rookie year, I didn’t do it. Last year, I started taking naps before the game, right after shootaround.
Are you ordering room service all the time?
It’s not very often, but every time I do it’s just cookies and milk.
Really? Most people say Caesar salad or salmon or something like that.
Nah, that’s not my speed. I’m more cookies and milk.
Where are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled outside the NBA?
I’d say South Africa. I was there this summer. Milan was fun, that was my first time out there. A couple years ago I went to Spain, pretty much anywhere outside of America. You’ve definitely gotta get out of America when you can.
It’s very fun to go outside America, but once you go to those places, you don’t want to leave. That’s the hardest part. There’s a lot of places I haven’t been that I’m looking forward to going to this summer. Top of the list is Greece. I definitely want to do Greece.
For sure. When you go out to LA, you bring a different type of outfit than when you go to Memphis. It depends on the weather, too. I’ll wear sweatpants, I don’t really care.
Do you ever forget what day it is? Is it Tuesday? Is it Saturday?
It’s crazy that you asked me that. I really don’t be knowing! I just go by what I need to do today. I’ll always just say “tomorrow”, no day or date. Let’s make it happen tomorrow at 12. That’s how I go about my days. I don’t know what day it is.
Originally Appeared on GQ