Clint Capela and Luc Mbah a Moute: Frères d'armes à Houston

ByFrancis Okupa, KweséESPN via ESPN logo
Monday, May 28, 2018

The home team locker room at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas is as plush and comfortable as one would expect for a top NBA team.

For some players, the amenities themselves might be the source of comfort, but for Houston Rockets center Clint Capela and forward Luc Mbah a Moute, the proximity of their individual lockers is what does the trick.

Capela, the son of Congolese and Angolan immigrants to Switzerland, and the Cameroonian Mbah a Moute are engaged in a grueling Western Conference playoff battle against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and face a deciding Game 7 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Their bond, which began last offseason when the pair met at, and played in, the NBA Africa game in South Africa, has been their best source of comfort this busy season, though neither asked to be placed side by side in the changeroom.

"I didn't set it up. When I walked in I was sitting next to him so that really helped as well. We just really connected and on the road we're next to each other [in the visiting locker room]," Mbah a Moute, who recently recovered from a shoulder injury, tells KweséESPN.

The decision to sit them next to each other has led to the French speakers developing a brotherly bond over basketball, soccer and music, and they have enjoyed being able to connect in their mother tongue.

"[He's] a big brother to me. We talk like every single day, of course in French. [Our] relationship has been going really well. I just enjoy being next to him every single day here," Capela says.

The Cameroonian agrees: "We talk music and [tell] jokes in French. A lot of jokes. Just jokes all day long, on the plane. Next to each other. Just talking about the same music, dancing sometimes.

"I just enjoy to have the chance to speak French with a guy like him [on the same team]. I just love that.

"Obviously off the court we spend some time, we speak French, we go eat. Listen to the same music. We have a lot of stuff in common. We talk about soccer from [Africa], from France and all that stuff."

Last American summer, Capela was coming off a season in which he showed intriguing potential and found himself playing in his first NBA Africa game, alongside one of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's new signings, the veteran Mbah a Moute.

Capela explains: "So we met at the Africa game... I really liked the way he thinks. He just always thinks the right way, the best way. He's not that guy that's just trying to be cocky or think about himself. He's always trying to be helpful.

"His mindset is always about the team... professional. I really enjoy that and I've seen that since I saw him in Africa. I really didn't know him before that except that I used to play with him in [NBA]2k."

Mbah a Moute's first seson with Houston has been helped by having a confidante, he says, and is just as quick to praise his team-mate: "It's been great. Ever since I got here I took to him like a little brother and he took to me like an older brother.

"That's the first person I went to... started talking to in the locker room, just to give me the rundown of how things go here, who is who and what things happen. He was really good at that.

"I always admired him from afar and his progression, how he's gotten better. I just wanted to help him continue to grow. He's a kid who works hard, who listens."

Capela can come across as reserved or shy to outsiders, but Mbah a Moute declares that to be a ruse: "He comes off sometimes a little shy but he's not shy.

"He's a great guy, really really cool kid. Very mature for his age and it shows the way he plays. The way he does his job... [He] does it really well."

Capela backs that up with an anecdote: "When get off the plane, sometimes he asks me for a ride because he doesn't live too far from where I live and everytime I take the wrong exit and he gets worked up.

"I'm like chill man, I'm just going to put on some nice songs, African music, and you just enjoy the time."

The bond between them led to Capela getting a personalized Indomitable Lions football jersey for Mbah a Moute as a gift.

"It was just an idea that I had. He was really surprised about that and it made me really happy," the Swiss player says.

Mbah a Moute is hosting an Afro Culture weekend from July 5th-7th, with a Team Mbah a Moute vs Team Capela charity soccer game as the closing event.

The two friends agreed on a way to showcase African culture in Houston with an exhibit, a Taste of Africa gala, and the charity match, but one subject they cannot agree on?

"He's a fan of Barcelona. I like Ronaldo better so I'm more Real Madrid," Capela laments.

No matter the La Liga allegiances, Capela and Mbah a Moute have built a friendship on and off the court that must have played a role in the Rockets' success this season.

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