BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The players stopped mid-game, shaking their heads in silence at the violent brawl erupting in the bleachers. Instead of breaking it up, heavily-armed soldiers across the court laughed and snapped cell phone pictures. Eventually riot police rushed in, swinging batons and tossing fans over benches and down stairs. The crowd roared with approval, and the game was back on.
This is professional basketball in Lebanon, where American ball players are flocking for the money and the spotlight, despite the innumerable risks that come with living in the Middle East. With a civil war raging next door in Syria, sporadic political violence in Lebanese cities, a recent spate of kidnappings, and corrupt security forces, it may seem surprising that athletes would come here at all.
"It's heavy here," says Andre Emmett, a former Texas Tech standout who's the current league leader in scoring and one of the game's biggest stars here. "I just gotta try to block it all out and focus on playing basketball."