NBC News — Earning salaries of up to $8,000 per month and living in mansions and top hotels, a handful of Americans are chasing their hoop dreams in lawless Libya – with the threat of heavily armed Islamist militias and kidnappings providing a constant reminder of just how far they are from home.
“The guys on the team think that America is better, but I joke with them that I’m from Chicago and it’s the same as Libya,” said Antonio Haymon, a 26-year-old swingman who averages around 25 points per game while playing for Tripoli’s Al Ahly club.
Haymon recalled arriving in Libya’s capital last year to discover “gunfire and bombs going off all the time” as the government and its army struggles to control the battle-hardened militias, tribesmen and radical Islamists who helped to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. On Sunday, a South Korean trade official was abducted at gunpoint in Tripoli — just days after two Italian construction workers were seized in the country’s east.
Security forces in Tripoli were also put on maximum alert last weekend after gunmen stormed an air force base.
“When I first got here in November it was pretty dangerous,” said Haymon, who shares a mansion with other athletes from abroad. “The militias were still in the city and the people wanted them out so there was a lot of fighting.”
Like Haymon and about a dozen other Americans, Michigan native DeAndre Rice signed up for the six-month season that runs from November to May.
Reassured that the country was safe by the coach of Tripoli’s Ittihad club, the former Florida Atlantic University player agreed to become one of only two foreigners allowed on each of the league’s 12 teams.
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