This Guy Played for Gaddafi’s Basketball Team at the Start of the Libyan Revolution
There are a few things to expect when you start playing basketball at an international level: a grueling training regime, competitive teammates, and maybe some kind of sponsorship deal involving toiletries or luminous drinks. Stuff you generally don’t prepare yourself for, however, is almost starving to death while the army shoots at civilians just outside your apartment, being forced to survive on cockroaches and toilet water and fleeing a country by way of a border occupied by rebel guards.
That’s what happened to Alex Owumi, an American ball player who moved to Benghazi, Libya after being recruited by Al-Nasr, a team owned by the Gaddafi family. Alex arrived at the end of 2010 and enjoyed a few months as the team’s point guard, before the revolution broke out in February of 2011 and he found himself trapped in his apartment—a lavish place owned by Gaddafi’s son, Mutassim—without any food or electricity.
With little contact to the outside world, he survived by eating worms and drinking toilet water – his teeth turning rotten and the pigment on his face discolouring—until he got a call from his former coach, who smuggled him over the border to Egypt. After arriving in Alexandria, he recovered and started playing for the city’s El Olympi, helping them win 13 games in a row and eventually take the championship.
I gave him a call to talk about his experience, the Gaddafi family and how the revolution changed his outlook on life.
Alex Owumi: It was a pretty bad time for me as a player, then my manager phoned me up and told me there was this team in Libya that wanted me to play for them. At that point it was either doing this for me or going back home. And I was welcomed there with open arms.
Did you know at that point that it was Gaddafi’s team you were going to play for?
I didn’t find out it was Gaddafi’s team until I first got into my apartment. It was all beautiful and state of the art, but I noticed there were also quite a lot of pictures of Gaddafi and his grandkids. That’s when I finally asked my team captain whose apartment this was, and he told me it belonged to the Gaddafi family.