By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
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By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
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By CP Staff
After the NBA, El-Amin didn't have many options. He could have gone out for a minor-league team and tried to work his way back up, but instead he signed with a team in Strasbourg, France.
"It was a major challenge for him, and it would have been easy to kind of fold up the tent and go home," says El-Amin's brother Makram. "That was a setback for him mentally."
ON MARCH 3, 2010, El-Amin picked up the ball just outside the three-point line. There were only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, and Lithunia's Lietuvos Rytas team was trying to catch up.
El-Amin had hit a buzzer-beater to win the game from this distance against Spanish team Caja Laboral a few weeks earlier, and Spain's defense wasn't going to take the chance of a repeat. A 6'9" brick wall of a defender clung to El-Amin like a wet suit.
El-Amin had no chance at the three-pointer. If he was going to make a shot, he'd have to drive into close range.
He'd signed with Lithuania just a few weeks earlier, but was already the team's star player. Lithuania's coach had been fired right before the Euroleague tournament, and sports writers predicted the team's lack of direction would send them home in the first round.
"There was real concern about leadership," recalls Landry of Ball in Europe. "But El-Amin came in there and he was a field general."
The Euroleague was El-Amin's chance to play in the global spotlight for the first time since his stint with the Bulls. Though the Euroleague tournament pales in popularity compared to the NBA, it's the second-most prestigious tournament worldwide, broadcast in 191 countries. This was an enormous step up from the mostly obscure leagues El-Amin had played in Europe previously.
"I would say, in terms of team, this is the culmination of his career," says Landry. "To play in Euroleague, that's the big stage. That's the highest level of competition, and it's really a level of competition where El-Amin can stand out."
With the shot clock running out, the north Minneapolis-born player made a break for the hoop, trying to catch the defender off guard with deceptive speed.
But El-Amin never made his shot. His play was cut short when he collided with another defender and ricocheted off like a ping-pong ball. He spun 180 degrees. Towering figures were fighting ravenously for the ball above him.
El-Amin reached down to the sharp pain coming from his thigh, and felt an indentation in his thigh.
That's when he realized something was very wrong.
The fall had ripped the quadriceps muscle straight off the bone.
IN THE FISH house back in Minneapolis, El-Amin sits with a smile that defies the horrific injury he describes.
But as laid-back as El-Amin appears, he admits the injury has forced him to think seriously about his future. Though he's confident he'll be back in Lithuania at the beginning of next season, he's about to turn 32, and his dream of returning to the NBA has passed its expiration date.
"The injury really made me think about life after basketball."
In part, this means finishing the college degree he left incomplete more than 10 years ago. El-Amin says he plans to enroll at Augsburg College this summer while going through rehabilitation. He's undecided whether he'll pick up where he left off with his television production major.
For El-Amin, life after basketball involves a lot of basketball. He's currently working on expanding a youth sports program in north Minneapolis, called El-Amin Basketball. It's a small operation run solely out of the Boys and Girls Club on the North Side, but this winter he's partnering with larger leagues and sponsors throughout the Twin Cities.
El-Amin eventually wants to build a league similar to the one at the Hospitality Club that he started playing for as a seven-year-old.
Before leaving the fish house, El-Amin waddles over to say goodbye to his sister. When she asks about the leg, he just smiles.
"I'll be back," he assures her. "It'll take a couple months, but I'll be back."