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A Seven-Footer from Timbuktu...

...and other tales of the African Olympic basketball trials

Mohammed is the driver. The car is of indeterminate make and indeterminate age. It is not a taxi, but it also is not Mohammed's car. He works for a man who lends him the car, and Mohammed must pay the man every day. There also is another man who must be paid. Possibly a third. It is all very confusing. The operative word is baksheesh, which roughly means bribe. Baksheesh is the lubricant of daily Egyptian living.

"Tell me what you need," Mohammed says from behind the wheel every day. "I will handle it. Best for you. I will take you to the pyramids. I will arrange a special tour."

"Maybe tomorrow," you say. "Today I must watch the basketball again."

The arena is in Nasr City, a section of newer buildings on the outskirts of Cairo. Mohammed drives through the overcrowded streets of the city as if he is being pursued by Charles Bronson. He cuts left and right, beeping his horn at each pass. He stops. He starts. He swerves to miss a donkey pulling a cart filled with lighting fixtures. He cuts off a bus. He narrowly misses a man on crutches, who moves only at the last possible instant. The smog is so dense that children on the street corners sell boxes of tissues for stuffed noses and watery eyes. Tissues. Ten million people live in Cairo, and half of them seem to be driving cars. The other half are crammed into the 1950s-style buses that travel in their own noxious clouds.

"Four hundred people can fit in one bus," Mohammed says. "See? There is one with 400. See the people hanging off the sides? If you cannot get to the door, you just jump out the window. See?"

He swerves past the man who has just jumped out the window, comes so close that the front right fender of the car seems to touch the man's pants. The man does not seem to notice. Mohammed does not seem to notice.

The arena is part of a giant sports complex located next to the Panorama of the October War of 1973. You take the first right after passing the representations of the jets and guns that attacked Israeli positions in the Sinai, then pass a stadium for swimming, another for field hockey and a third, a giant stadium seating 130,000 people, for soccer. The arena seats 25,000 people for basketball. It is a large, circular building. Attached to the circle are three smaller circles containing smaller gyms that each seat 1,000 people.

Opened in September 1991 for the African Games, the arena really has not been completed. The debris of construction—boards and stones and dust—still is everywhere. The few signs to be seen are handwritten on white paper. You drive past the armed guards at the gate and through a tunnel into the building. You park next to the riot troops, armed and bored, standing in the half-light with their plastic shields and helmets. The troops stare into nowhere as Mohammed speaks to the man at the door to the basketball floor. The language is Arabic. Mohammed nods. The man nods. He opens the door with a wide smile.

"I give him money," Mohammed says.

Every day.

You have come to the 16th African Nations Basketball Championships with the sketchy idea that you might be taking a peek at the future of the game. You have seen Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria and now Dikembe Mutombo of Zaire come into the NBA and become stars. All of the basketball on all of the other continents outside North America has not delivered two players of this quality to the U.S. system. What's next? The modern game increasingly has been dominated by tall, athletic black bodies. You have come to the first home of tall, athletic black bodies. You are an explorer of sorts.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

"Actually, no. I am here from the States. I am looking for power forwards and jitterbug point guards and, most important of all, gigantic centers."

There is no doubt about how far away you are from, say, Rupp Arena. You look at the map of Egypt and see that Libya and Muammar Gaddafi are on the left, and Israel and all of the Middle Eastern troubles are across the Sinai on the right, and the Sudan, birthplace of the Philadelphia 76ers' Manute Bol, is at the bottom, filled with civil war. You are not so far from Somalia, another civil war. Or Chad, another civil war. The very names of the teams that have qualified for this tournament speak of romance, intrigue and hellhole violence. Angola! Algeria! Cameroon! Nigeria! The Ivory Coast! Mali! The Central African Republic! Senegal! Morocco! Tunisia! Egypt! You wonder how many teams have running games and how many teams have running water.

The original site for the event was Algiers, but the Algerians canceled when elections were announced for Dec. 26, 1991. The Algerians' fear—proved right by the victory of fundamentalist Muslims—was that the country would be thrown into political chaos. The Moroccans had the next opportunity to act as hosts but declined, citing a lack of money. The Egyptians inherited the tournament gladly. Home-court advantage is a concept that is not unknown in the Third World. The winner of these championships will be the one African qualifier for the Olympics this summer in Barcelona. Mauritania already has dropped from the field because it did not want to play in Egypt. Egypt is both the host and the heavy in the competition.

"You wait and see how it goes," Ivory Coast coach Alphonse Bile says. "Everything is geared for Egypt to win. We come here to practice...the doors are locked. We can't even practice in the big gym. We go to the small gym and there are no basketballs. We have to look all over the place for the balls. They put everything against you. Towels? There are no towels. There is no water. The only time everything is right is when you play your game against Egypt."

"I wish the U.S. team was here," Guy Gomis, a forward from Senegal, says. "I'd like them to get a look at these referees and the officials at the table, the ones who work the clock. I'd like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to talk about the stuff that happens there. And the food. How do you think they'd like the food? We stay at this military hotel, and everyone gets the same meal. No menu. Everyone gets the same food, and there is not much of it, and there are no second helpings. All these big men. These little mounds of rice. The Egyptians go home and eat."

"I think we have a good chance," Dr. Ismail Selim, the Egyptian coach, admits. "There are some factors that favor us. Playing at home certainly helps."

Even the timing of the tournament, Dec. 28 to Jan. 8, seems geared to help Egypt win. The black African countries, from the lower two thirds of the continent, wanted the games to be played in late June or early July, so they could use players, who presently are in American colleges or European professional leagues. Egypt, which has only two players out of the country—U.S.-raised Alaa Abdelnaby, who is with the Portland Trail Blazers, and another forward whose name Dr. Selim cannot remember—preferred to play early. The other Arab countries along the Mediterranean agreed.

The weather is another factor. The weather in Cairo in January is cold. Some of the southern players, bundled against the 40° temperatures, look as if they have been taken to a place of perverse punishment. The arena always is cold.

You are struck by a few similarities to the U.S. game as the play unfolds. The Arab teams, especially Egypt, are studied and precise. They are coaches' teams, running plays, working for stationary three-point shots. They resemble U.S. white suburban schools, or parochial schools heading into the state tournament. The teams from the black African countries are inner-city-style tornadoes playing a free-form version of American basketball. Their games are played in the five feet in front of the basket and the two feet above it. Shots are rejected and tried again. Hands reach, feet leave the floor. The rest of the game is a mess—balls thrown everywhere on the other 87 feet of the floor, turnovers occurring at an astonishing rate, jump shots taken from the worst places—but those final five feet are dramatic.

"You are watching the past of African basketball against the future of African basketball," Bile says. "Egypt is as good as it can get. These other countries.... You can't coach someone how to jump. You can coach the rest."

The past? The future? You watch. You listen.

"I took my players on an 11-game trip to the United States," a 24-year-old guy named Craig Madzinski says. "It was the first time most of them had been on an airplane, the first time most of them had been anywhere. The first day in the U.S., we practiced at George Washington University. The kids just stood there, amazed. They looked at that gym and could not believe we were there. The glass backboards. The hardwood floors. The leather basketballs. We were going to It was like we were in a palace. They never had seen anything like this."

You sit with Madzinski at some of the games. He is an American, a former assistant coach at Loyola Chicago, to which he will return after this competition. For now, however, he is the national coach—indeed, the only coach—in Burundi, a small country in the center of Africa. He heard about the job from friends. Burundi. You get some ideas from him about African basketball. You get some realities. You find yourself talking about tribes, about civil war, about small snakes that can strike a man today and the man knows he will die in exactly 18 days, no known antidote to the poison.

"The possibilities for basketball are unbelievable," Madzinski says, "but there is so much to overcome. The talent? I've seen women in Burundi who are 6'10". You have these throw the ball out there, and it's like throwing a ball in with a bunch of greyhounds. They run all day. I have kids who jog four and five miles to practice. We don't even have warmups. We just get going. They jump over the rim without a thought. They're in amazing condition. They also have no idea what to do. There isn't one indoor court in the country. The court we use, outdoors, isn't even regulation. There are no high school teams, no youth programs. There are no coaches."

The country is the size of Maryland, but it contains six million people. The players come mostly from the large capital city of Bujumbura, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The players are divided between the two major tribes, the Tutsi and the Hutu. A long-standing feud exists between the tribes, and often there has been violence. There are also problems with Rwanda, a neighboring country. The main language in Burundi is Kirundi, but French is taught in the schools, and Swahili is used in trade and commerce. Madzinski speaks only English.

"So many problems," he says. "We came back from the U.S., and as I was getting my baggage at the airport, an embassy official comes up to me and asks if I have heard about the coup attempt. What coup attempt? I go home and can't leave. I was in the house for 12 days. There was a curlew at dusk. I could hear gunfire all the time. I would sit on the porch at night and watch firelights. We did all this work in the U.S.—we lost all 11 games—and I haven't seen all of these kids together since we said goodbye at the airport."

He has two kids who play their basketball barefoot, unable to find shoes. There are problems with anything that involves money. Where to get some shoes? Where to get balls? There are problems simply arranging games. Who is there to play? Every road game would be a plane flight. There is virtually no road system.

"When you get to the countries below the Sahara," Madzinski says, "there is very little infrastructure. You might have a road, but it will go to the border of the next country and simply stop. You have to fly, and flying is expensive. We had the trip to the U.S., and we don't have any more games, really, until a tournament in Angola in April. Even're never sure of anything in Africa. I had kids, the night before we were going to the U.S., asking me if we still were going. They believe in nothing until it happens."

He describes the success of a 6'8" kid named Ernest Nzigamasabo as an indicator of Burundi's basketball possibilities. A previous U.S. ambassador to Burundi was a basketball fan. Nzigamasabo's mother worked at the embassy and told the ambassador about her tall, athletic son. The ambassador arranged for Nzigamasabo to attend high school in the United States. The kid eventually wound up on those Top 150 Prospects lists and now is on scholarship at the University of Minnesota. Two of his brothers also are in the state—one in high school and the other in a Division II college.

"I coached last year in Waterford, Ireland," Madzinski says. "The Waterford Glass Basketball Club. I guess that's about as far away from Burundi as you can get, although the rolling hills in Burundi remind me a little bit of Ireland. In Waterford, things were the other way around. We had the equipment. We had the same practice times every day. We just didn't have the athletes. Here...."

"Who would win?" you ask. "If your team from Ireland played against your team from Burundi, who would win?"

"The Irish kids, if you asked them to run through a wall for you, they would keep running through any number of walls," Madzinski says. "They were terrific kids to coach. They just didn't have the talent. The Burundi kids.... They pick up something in five minutes that it would take you two weeks to teach in Ireland. Burundi. Burundi wins."

You hear Madzinski's words repeated in various forms throughout the tournament. You talk with coaches, players, officials. You watch a lot of very ragged basketball that is saved only by a rebound here, a slam there, a touch of grace inside a badly choreographed dance. You watch a kid from the Ivory Coast shatter a backboard only to find that it is not made of safety glass. He suffers cuts on a shoulder and a leg. You listen to tribal chants by the players before Cameroon goes on the court, tribal drums from a corner of the stands when Senegal plays, a cheering mass of soldiers in fatigues in the end zones when Egypt plays. The soldiers are led by a character you call the Cairo Chicken. He stands on top of a railing and directs everyone with waves of his hands. He seems like the biggest fan imaginable.

"You have to remember that basketball is an expensive sport," Bile says.

An expensive sport?

"You need the rings, the backboards, the shoes—even the ball is very expensive," he says. "That is why football, soccer, is so popular in the Third World. I can pick a melon out of a tree and take it to a field, and we can play soccer."

An expensive sport.

"We have no coaches," Victorino E. Silva e Cunha, the Angolan coach, says. "And most of the ones we have...arrrgh. There are coaches here, a lot of them, who believe in...what's the word? Mysticism. Fate. They will go into games without strategy, saying only that something will happen. God will provide. Arrrgh. They're talking about mysticism when they should be teaching a zone trap."

Silva e Cunha has solved the problem by doing all the coaching himself. A white Angolan, the son of Portuguese settlers, he has directed the country's basketball since 1974. Through civil war, in spite of a white evacuation, without a lot of money, he has built his teams from the bottom up in the Angolan capital of Luanda. He has flown with them over bombed-out bridges and impassable roads. Through floods and droughts, whatever the obstacles, he has kept at basketball. His country is at an unsteady peace at last, and his present team has been together for eight years. He has coached some of the players since they were 10 years old.

"The people, they love the baskets," he says. "They sometimes put up the rings on trees. Any kind of ring. The problem is to get the means to improve—the uniforms, the courts, the balls. You need the money. How do you get it when the money has to go for food, for the construction of the roads and bridges? The money for basketball isn't there."

"There are so many problems," Gomis, the forward from Senegal, says. "In Senegal, not the biggest country in the world, we have 65 different dialects. How do you overcome that? The money. How do you overcome that? We have a situation in Dakar now where some doctors are unemployed because there is no money to pay them. At the same time, kids are dying. How do you get all that to work first? You talk about money. Do you know how hard it is to get out of our country? Even the president wouldn't have enough money to send his children to an American college."

Gomis, 24, was lucky. While he was in high school, he came to the attention of a USAID official in Dakar. The official was a friend of Skip Chappelle, who was then the University of Maine basketball coach. The official recommended Gomis and another Senegalese player, Coco Barry. They wound up in Orono, Maine, for four years, learning English and how to cope with cold weather and how to play Division I basketball. Gomis was the Maine co-captain as a senior.

"I was 6'7", 167 pounds when I went there," Gomis says. "With the good food, with the weights, I went over 200 pounds. My father, I remember, said, 'Go for it,' when I had the chance [to play in the U.S.]. My mother was worried. Do you know how American people think that everyone in Africa lives in a jungle and lights lions, even though most of us live in big cities? My mother had the clichès about America. She thought prostitutes and gangsters were everywhere. She didn't know anything about Maine."

You find that most of the American success stories run the same. Someone talked to someone who talked to someone else. There is no organized ladder to help players leave the continent. There are no college scouts in pith helmets. The average young African player will go to Europe to play in the pros as soon as possible, to make money as soon as possible. Why learn English? Why wait?

You see a seven-footer from Mali, who has tried American colleges and returned home to Timbuktu. (A seven-footer from Timbuktu!) You see a seven-footer from the Ivory Coast who went straight to France. You see the best player in the tournament, perhaps, a 19-year-old kid named Etienne Preira, 6'7", from Senegal. He spent a few months in the U.S., stashed in a prep school to learn English by friends of Georgetown basketball, but he grew antsy. He is back. It requires a sense of adventure and a bottom line of dedication to travel so far and survive.

"My one complaint is that the Americans only seem to want the big guys," Nigerian coach Toin Sonoiki says. "Why don't they come over here and take some of our point guards, too? We have some small guys who can play."

Nigeria probably has sent more kids to the U.S. than any other African country. Sonoiki estimates that "between 40 and 60 [Nigerian] players" now are attending American high schools and colleges. The result is that the Nigerian national team is very young, averaging about 19 years old. None of the college kids have returned. Politics also have hurt. Spots on the team are allocated in some cases to keep the country's many tribes happy.

"What about Olajuwon?" you ask. "Has he done much to help?"

"Olajuwon has done nothing for Nigerian basketball," the coach says quickly. "He hasn't done one clinic. He hasn't provided one shoe. He's one of the owners of L.A. Gear. [Olajuwon only endorses the brand.] You think we've seen any shoes? Look at these [L.A. Gear] shoes. We had to buy them in Cairo when we got here."

Players sitting around Sonoiki nod.

"Nothing," the coach repeats. "We go over there, and [Olajuwon] doesn't want to know us. There's a guy, George Bereofori, who was responsible for Olajuwon's going to America. George was a very good player, and American colleges were interested. He was older, though, 25 or 26, and didn't want to go. He recommended Olajuwon.

"Well, last year, George goes to America on business. He calls Olajuwon down in Houston. You know what Olajuwon says? 'Where did you get this number? Where did you get this number?' Olajuwon has done nothing." (Olajuwon says that he has donated equipment to the Nigerian team, that he does not remember Bereofori's call and that Bereofori was not responsible for his coming to the U.S.)

You talk with a kid from the Central African Republic who played at Houston Baptist, tried out with the Milwaukee Bucks, went to France and now plays in Australia. He is here in Cairo to play for his country. He has brought along his girlfriend from Tasmania. Tasmania? Houston Baptist? You talk with a kid from Nigeria who once tried out with the Albany Patroons of the CBA. You talk with a kid from Angola who plays in France but says his favorite team is "the L.A. Lakers." Angolan television shows one NBA game every week. The kid always hopes it involves the Lakers.

The tournament is played in an Olympic format—two round-robin groups delivering the four teams for the semifinals—and as assorted teams fall off the hunt, you study faces and shades of color and sizes and find that you see subtle distinctions. The term African-American suddenly seems a little broad. You see differences from different countries. Don't you? You ask Gomis, from Senegal, if what you think you see is right. Is it possible to see these other countries in the faces of black Americans?

"Oh, yeah," Gomis says. "We were doing that just the other day on the team, talking about where different famous guys came from."

"Where do you think Michael Jordan came from?" you ask.

"Well," Gomis says, "we decided he came from Senegal."

The riot takes place during the game between Egypt and Algeria on the final day of the round-robin. You have heard rumors about it for days, as if it were a fist-fight scheduled to begin in the high school parking lot five minutes after the final class of the afternoon. The game means nothing. Egypt is undefeated and has qualified for the semifinals along with Angola, Senegal and Mali. Algeria has been eliminated. Attendance has not been very good in the big arena—"Too cold for people to come out," Mohammed the driver explains—but suddenly the companies of Egyptian soldiers who have been trooped into the end-zone seats have been joined by some ordinary citizens. A lot of ordinary citizens. The arena is almost filled.

"There was a problem a few weeks ago at a volleyball tournament in Algeria," Amina Fathi, a reporter for El Watan, an Algerian newspaper, explains. "It happened in Blida, a small town that is the home of a radical Muslim sect. I mean, this is a place where the people want to take up the football field and plant vegetables because they say it is a waste of God's land. The Egyptians never should have gone there. They should have known there would be trouble.

"Anyway, two Egyptian teams made the final. The people started yelling all sorts of nasty things. Do you know Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Egyptian who has just become the secretary general of the United Nations? Well, he is a Christian and married to a Jew. The people at the volleyball began calling the Egyptians 'dirty Jews' and telling them to go back to Israel. They also threw stones. One of the stones injured an Egyptian player, seven stitches or something like that. The newspapers here reported it all in a very political way. That is how the sports pages are throughout the Middle East. Everyone knew there would be trouble tonight."

The riot police under the stands and in the seats suddenly are awake. The trouble begins as soon as the Algerians enter the court. A hail of fruit, vegetables and stones comes from the seats. The Algerians leave, wait 10 minutes, then come back. More hail. The Algerians leave again, holding white plastic chairs over their heads. Various officials go to the microphone to address the crowd in Arabic. The Egyptian coach speaks. The team captain speaks. The Algerians return. A lot of whistles. No hail.

"I am left with two choices," Bruno Gasperin, the French referee, says. "I am too young, I do not even want to be involved with this game, but I have to do something. First, the easy choice. I can call the game off. Second, because of politics and diplomacy, we can play. I tell the chief of police if one more stone lands on the court, there will be no game."

There is a game. Algeria, playing to the constant sounds of derision, amazingly takes a nine-point lead by halftime. Egypt comes back in the second half. With 43 seconds left, it has a 76-71 lead. The riot begins. One stone hits the court and then another and another. The Algerian players put the chairs over their heads and try to hide. More stones. The Algerians demand that the riot police be brought to guard their bench. The riot police, with shields and visors, arrive in a line. The court is swept. The two teams play out the final seconds. Stones come from everywhere at the end. The Algerians run. Everyone runs.

"I play those final 43 seconds for history, to show that basketball is bigger than politics," the scared referee says. "The police, they did nothing. They went after no one. They could have stopped this very easily, but they did nothing. All of the stones. It was amazing that no one was really hurt. I will remember this game for all of my life."

You are stunned by the ferocity of the moment. You stand on the court. There must be more than 300 stones on the green synthetic floor, big rocks that could have killed a man. If this had happened in the U.S., there would be a national debate for weeks about the place of sport in society, about the future of human behavior, about all sorts of sociological issues. The moment seems to be accepted in Cairo, a little tide of violence just sweeping in and sweeping out. What are you going to do?

"Ah, the Algerians, the last few seconds, they were making a movie," one Egyptian player says. "It was not so bad. They were trying to make it look worse."

Not so bad?

"It was the Algerians' fault," an Egyptian trainer says. "They started this at the volleyball."

The Egyptian newspapers will eventually follow this same approach. The Algerians started it. The crowd was well behaved until it was enraged by the unscrupulous Algerians. What can you do? The Algerians, back at their hotel, will say that they were also whacked by the riot police who were sent to help them. Could you believe it? Amazingly, they say that they will stay for the end of the tournament, even though they have only a meaningless game for ninth place to play. Mohamed Yahya, an Algerian guard, shrugs and shows a scar on his chin. He says he received it from an elbow in a game against Egypt four years ago. The game was wild, took five hours to complete. Games against Egypt are tough.

"What were the people yelling during most of the game?" you ask a policeman on the floor who speaks very good English. "What was that chant they kept yelling in Arabic?"

"Oh," he says with a small smile. "That was 'Algeria...the reproductive system of your mother.' That is how I would translate it."

You let Mohammed take you to see the pyramids. You follow the team bus of Cameroon. Your photographer wants to take pictures of the players riding camels in front of the Sphinx. The only problem is that the players, hearing the cost of the camel rides, decide they will walk. Your photographer makes an executive decision. He buys a round of camel rides. Mohammed negotiates the bulk rate, which turns out to be something like $165.

"I will go into the expense-account hall of fame," the photographer says. "Item: $165 for 14 camels."

You meet a 6'6" forward from Morocco who speaks unaccented American English. This is because he lives in Brooklyn, works in a restaurant and has married a girl from Alabama. You ask where he usually plays his basketball. His name is Hassan Jaouani. He says he plays at a Jewish Center in an all-Jewish league. He uses the pseudonym David. No problem.

You do not find the next Olajuwon or Mutombo. You see players named Christian A. Malibangar and Guy Eustache Mbongo and Amin Ghoul and Karim Duattara and Jean-Claude Ntep and Boubacar Aw and Boubacar Ba and Sidi Yeya and Benjamin Ucuahamba and Henri Nanfack and Mamadou Kone and Richard Bah Dhegnan and Seydou Bamba and Mohamed Mbomiko. You do not find Olajuwon or Mutombo.

The lone scout at the tournament is a young guy from the Netherlands, Rob Meurs, who puts out a talent newsletter about European prospects and works on the side for the Golden State Warriors. Meurs says he is "a little bit disappointed" in the talent level at the tournament. He saw no ready-made NBA players and few NCAA Division I possibilities. The ball-handling is bad. The outside shooting is bad. The athletic skills are great, but what are you going to do?

"It's all so hard," Meurs says. "I've talked with a lot of players, had them fill out the forms. They all want to go, they all want an escape, but where would they fit? Here's a kid. [Meurs points to a form.] He's a good athlete. Maybe he could be something with proper coaching. He can't write his name. Where's he going to go?"

Meurs says he wishes he had money and time to go to an African country, work with kids for a couple of years, bring in all the best equipment, all the best food, all the technological advances, build a team and come out and shock the world. Who can do that? The players will be better only when the coaches and the facilities are better. How will that happen? When? The job seems overwhelming.

"Who can even scout Africa?" he says. "It's so large. I'm thinking about going to Nigeria after what I've learned here, but who can scout all of Africa?"

Egypt docs not win after all. The Algerian game seems to have squeezed all of the emotion out of the home team. Senegal drops the Egyptians in a 99-83 upset in the semis. The future beats the past. There is no disturbance. The crowd is small. Gomis says the key to the upset was a special dinner with the Senegalese ambassador on the day of the game.

"He takes us out to eat, right?" Gomis says. "The bus pulls up in front of an exclusive-looking restaurant downtown. We get out and I notice that there's a Kentucky Fried Chicken next door. I don't think anything about it. We're all following the ambassador, and he...heads straight for Kentucky Fried Chicken! That's it. Training meal. The thing was, the guys loved it. This is the best food we had since we got here. We'll be back with the Colonel for the final, I'm sure."

The chicken, alas, does not work twice. Angola beats Senegal 71-66 for the championship and the trip to Barcelona. Angola has its chicken antidote—the Egyptian cheerleader suddenly works the small group of Angola fans. The Cairo Chicken. He stands on the railing and cheers. Preira, Senegal's star, has four fouls by halftime and never is a force in the game. Angola is patient and smart. Silva e Cunha has taught his lessons well. Angola handles the Senegalese press at the end. Angola hits both ends of the one-and-ones when Senegal fouls. The star is Jean-Jacques Concei‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√º‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬£o, who plays professionally for Benfica in Portugal. He is a 6'7" power forward who surely could play NCAA Division I basketball but now is 25 years old.

"We have practiced five hours a day," Silva e Cunha says, crying in happiness. "No other teams do that. The teams in the U.S. do not do that. We practice over 960 hours a season, play over 50 games. Did you see what Senegal was trying to do to us at the end? Foul us, hoping we would miss? Jim Valvano won an NCAA title at North Carolina State doing that. We made the free throws."

The Egyptian coach, Dr. Selim, has tried one last bit of gamesmanship. He has walked around the floor with a briefcase filled with empty ampoules and syringes he says were found at the Senegalese players' hotel. Senegal was on drugs. Senegal had to be on drugs. Did you see how No. 7, Preira, played against us? He was like Michael Jordan! And he never got tired! That was drugs.

The charge finds few takers, though the Egyptian press surely will run with it in the morning. There has been no provision for drug testing. There will be none now.

The result stands. Angola.

You watch as the winning coach talks in Portuguese into headphones at a table. Radio. Back to his country. You watch as he poses with his team at center court, Egyptian tournament workers somehow sliding into the edges of the picture as if they were part of the victory. The lights in the gym are turned off. You follow the coach and his team in the half-light to the bus. Two men also seem to be following. One is the Cairo Chicken, smiling, as always. The other is...his manager?

"He cheered for you," the manager says to Silva e Cunha.

"He helped you win," the manager says.

"Maybe a little something?" the manager says. "Baksheesh?"

The coach slowly puts his hand into his pocket. Hey, Mohammed tells you, this is only right. Who are you to argue? You still have to find your way home.



Troops of Egyptians turned out for the home team.



All the players were reaching for Barcelona.



Armed guards shielded point guards.



Fans cheered to a different drummer.



For 12 days in Cairo there was dancing (at the opening ceremonies), scrambling (Cameroon, in white, versus Mali), squabbling Senegalese and snacking soldiers.



Long tall Mali center Mamadou Dieng came up measurably short on ball handling.



Egypt stood behind Algeria for a pregame photo. Then the Egyptian police stood by as rioters rained rocks on the visitors.



As they had outlived other invasions, the camel and the Sphinx survived the visit or the basketball team from Cameroon.



Egyptian coaches claimed they found evidence of drug use by the Senegalese, but few thought the charge had any substance.



In the end, the tournament laurels went to the Angolans, who headed off the Senegalese in the championship game.