"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.