The NBA is not the only place to play professional basketball. In Qaddafi’s Point Guard: The Incredible Story of a Professional Basketball Player Trapped in Libya’s Civil War, author and professional basketball player Alex Owumi tells the story of his overseas basketball career.
Highlights from Bill’s Conversation with Alex Owumi
BL: Despite your family’s concerns before you were caught up in the chaos of the revolution in Libya in Feb. 2011, you thought you had a pretty sweet deal there, right?
AO: Yeah, I thought the deal was pretty sweet. Basically the money was good, and I was doing what I loved to do. I was really happy to be there.
BL: Even before you left Macedonia for Libya you were an experienced traveler. You were born in Nigeria, did a lot of your growing up in the U.S., played college ball at Alcorn State among other places, and then you played professionally in France. Looking back, do you wonder why you didn’t see the potential problems in playing for a team owned by the Qaddafi family?
AO: Looking back I didn’t see the potential problems because, being raised in Nigeria, I wasn’t scared to go back to an African country. Also, I just wanted to get out of my situation in Macedonia.
BL: On Feb. 17, 2011, you overslept. You realized you were going to be late for your Libyan team’s practice, and that the guy who was supposed to drive you to practice hadn’t arrived. So you called your coach to explain and found out what?
AO: I called coach to explain and found out that it was hell going on outside. You know, I called him and talked to him, basically trying to get to the gym and do a workout session to get ready for a big game on a Saturday, and he basically told me I needed to look outside and see what’s going on. So I took a stroll upstairs to the rooftop and looked at the protesters — walking and marching probably about 200 or 300 — went back downstairs to get a bottle of water, drank it, and came back upstairs again, and now I saw a bunch of military men on the opposite side, and these military men were on these big jeeps with these big machine guns on ‘em, and they were marching toward the protesters. Shots rang out, protesters were falling, you know, hundreds murdered right in front of my face, and my heart was beating 100 miles-a-minute.
BL: And the plan eventually was you got into a car with a driver headed for Egypt. Did you assume at that point that your troubles were over?
AO: Yes, I did. Our team president got us a driver to get to Egypt. It was basically supposed to be a six to seven hour ride to Sallum, Egypt, which is, you know, on the border. I thought that you know once I got in that car I was going to be home free. Basically get there, get back to my family in America. And as soon as I got 15 minutes outside the city, there was a checkpoint, and this wasn’t a military checkpoint. These were rebels, you know, machine guns, machetes, handguns, things like that.
They were looking for people trying to escape. People who did the wrong to their people. So they were kind of aggressive with us, grabbing us out of the car; putting machine guns to our heads; taking all our luggage, all our bags, throwing them to the side of the road. There were about five or six of those. Imagine every two hours you’re stopping, being pulled out of the car, being harassed, being physically assaulted, throwing up on the trunk of a car. It just does something to your mind where it just makes you go crazy because any minute of the day you know your life could be gone.
Bill’s Thoughts on Qaddafi’s Point GuardAlex Owumi is a good enough basketball player to make a living in the game as long as he doesn’t mind moving around a lot.
Born in Nigeria and raised in the U.S., he has played minor league ball in Manchester, N.H. and had stints in leagues in France, Macedonia, and Egypt, among other places. For a short time he played in Libya, where the playing stopped and the ducking began. Owumi hid in his Benghazi apartment, sans electricity, running water, or phone service, for nearly two weeks while revolution raged around him in Feb. 2011. Finally he made his way out of the country, and after a short stay in a refugee camp in Egypt, he caught on with a basketball team in Alexandria. He’s now playing for a team in England.
Qaddafi’s Point Guard is the very readable tale of one naïve young man’s terrifying experience in the middle of a revolution he could neither anticipate nor understand.