Basketball player Charles Tabet was once a national hero blocking shots for Lebanon, but a crumbling economy has forced him into a new life of selling cars in Michigan.
After a decade playing in his country of origin, the 33-year-old Lebanese-American last month returned to his native US state to start a new career.
“I sold my first vehicle today,” the 2.05m-tall player wrote on social media, posting a snapshot of himself, eyes smiling above a mask, next to a much shorter woman and her new white sport utility vehicle.
Basketball was once the sporting pride of Lebanon, with the national team qualifying for several world cups, and two clubs that were dominant forces in the Middle East and Asia two decades ago.
In its heyday, basketball could draw huge crowds and TV audiences in Lebanon, whose soccer team never made it past the Asian Cup group stages, let alone qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
However, with the economy in free fall, the tiny nation is losing some of its best basketball players, who are emigrating or swapping their jerseys for business shirts.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to retire,” Tabet said. “I’ve played 10 years in Lebanon. I’ve made some great friends, who I call family.”
“Playing basketball was how I supported myself and my family,” Tabet added. “With the economic crisis, it’s better for me to start my career in the States.”
Over the past year, players have seen the Lebanese basketball league suspended, their dollar savings trapped in the bank and buying power plummet amid the country’s worst financial crunch in decades.
“It’s sad and not the way I wanted to retire, but I’m excited for my next chapter in life,” Tabet said.
During its golden era, Lebanese basketball attracted players from as far as the US and some of the league’s “stars” could earn up to US$250,000 per season.
The 2019-2020 season was suspended and four of the country’s international players have quit.
Tabet has started selling cars.
Fellow Lebanese-American Daniel Faris, 33, has returned to the US state of New Mexico to peddle medical supplies; Lebanese player of Armenian origin Gerard Hadidian, 25, is off to play for an Armenian team; and Elie Chamoun, 26, has remained in Lebanon, but has hung up his jersey to become a management consultant.
“While many once returned from the diaspora to play in the Lebanese league, today you can’t convince a single player to come,” Lebanese coach Ghassan Sarkis said.
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