Gorgui Dieng was visiting family in his hometown of Kébémer, Senegal, several years ago when he stopped by a hospital and saw something that would change him.
A woman was about to deliver her baby, but she was lying on the ground. Dieng asked a nurse why the woman wasn’t on a bed, in labor.
There weren’t enough beds, the nurse told him, so the woman had to wait on the ground until one opened up.
Concerned, Dieng asked to take a tour of the hospital and asked the staff for a list of supplies they needed.
“I don't promise you anything,” Dieng recalled telling them, “but I just want to know what you want.”
They gave him a list, and that kickstarted what has become essentially a second job for Dieng — he’s also a professional basketball player on the Minnesota Timberwolves, who start their season this week.
While many NBA players spend their free time resting and training, Dieng is working on his foundation that’s focused on improving the quality of life for children in Senegal.
The Gorgui Dieng Foundation works to improve medical and agricultural infrastructure and access to healthy foods. It also hosts a five-day athletics camp each summer.
It was critical for Dieng to use his position as a professional athlete to give back to underserved people in Senegal, said Jen Ridgeway, vice president of social responsibility for the Timberwolves and Lynx basketball teams.
“Gorgui absolutely exemplifies being able to use the platform as a professional athlete to support both our local community and the international community as well,” she said.
He spent all of July in Senegal and helped get 300,000 bags of critical IV fluids sent to the country through a partnership with the Minnesota nonprofit Matter, Ridgeway said. The foundation also sponsored and supported a neonatal hospital.
Dieng puts his own money into the work, too. His foundation holds an annual fundraiser with Matter, and Dieng matches contributions up to $250,000.
Being an NBA player is a demanding job. But Dieng said there's still plenty of time to help
"We only work like four or five hours a day — max,” he said. “You know, the day's 24 hours, so I'm never too busy to help people."
Of course, Dieng is a busy person and the other Timberwolves take note.
"My teammates, they make fun of me sometimes like, ‘G, you’re always on the phone!’” he said.
But the work can be matters of life and death, Dieng said. For example, he said, “I've been on the phone talking like some kid is four years old, is about to die, he needs this amount of money to do surgery ... what can we do?”
Dieng is one of the most seasoned players on the Timberwolves, having been with the team six seasons. Ridgeway said younger players on the team consider Dieng a mentor on and off the court.
“He inspires them in terms of really discovering where [their] passions lie,” she said, “and how can they create their own legacy off the court here in our community and the communities that they grew up in.”