Beirut, Lebanon, where former NBA basketball players fulfill hoop dreams(Read article summary)
Former NBA basketball players are finding new fame in Beirut, Lebanon, where a ban on attending soccer matches, for fear of clashes, has boosted the American sport's popularity.
â€˘ A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
American basketball players have long been exports to Europe and the Far East, seeking fame and fortune in lieu of obscurity and insubstantial paychecks in the NBAâ€™s development league. But recently, the Middle East has turned out to be a surprisingly successful market.
â€śThe Americans have a big impact,â€ť says Kervork (who declined to give his last name), a fan of Antranik, a team associated with Lebanonâ€™s large Armenian community. â€śWithout them, it wouldnâ€™t be fun to watch basketball in Lebanon,â€ť he says.
The US players quickly notice the cultural differences. Fans chain-smoke when their team is down, posters of political figures replace retired numbers hanging from the banisters, and riot-gear-clad members of Lebanonâ€™s armed forces patrol the stands with stockless AK-47 assault rifles. In a league where most teams are aligned with sectarian or political groups, the soldiers are necessary to keep the tensions of rival fans at bay.
Joe Vogel, the center for Beirutâ€™s Al-Riyadi team, made a career out of playing abroad after an injury dashed his hopes of playing in the NBA. In Lebanon, Mr. Vogel is content â€“ he even acquired Lebanese citizenship. â€śWe get treated like kings over here â€“ everybody knows us because weâ€™re on TV,â€ť Vogel says.
While soccer may be the Middle Eastâ€™s most-loved sport, fans in Lebanon are generally barred from attending matches, with authorities fearing clashes. This ban â€“ along with a presence of basketball in the country since 1890 â€“ has helped boost basketballâ€™s popularity here.