Basketball is a truly global game. The number of foreign-born players in the NBA and the number of countries American players are now willing to play in is constantly growing. It’s why the story of Micheal Madanly being so unknown is a bit strange. It’s as interesting as any out there, especially during these strange times.
For every Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid that we have grace our televisions night in and night out set to, there’s an American born player trotting about the world unbeknownst to fans.
Basketball is everywhere.
Even the worst places to live in the world.
Micheal Madanly [ipa pronunciation mæ-dən-li] is a 6-foot-5 professional basketball player with a long and well-traveled career. His name is spelled with the “e” before the “a” quite literally because the government misspelled it on his birth certificate. He was born in Aleppo, Syria.
Aleppo is quite possibly the worst place to live in in the world this century.
Syria itself, as a country, has been in a state of civil war since 2011, and in a continuous state of national emergency since 1963, meaning less than 10% of living syrians have ever not lived in state of emergency.
Their civil war is both one of the most convoluted and dangerous political situations of our time, and because of that, I’m going to tread carefully with what I say.
As a very short summary, there are four main sides to the conflict: the Syrian government, the Syrian opposition forces, the Syrian democratic opposition forces, and ISIS.
Three of those sides have dozens of different, fairly unorganized, militias and the support of multiple outside countries, and the other one is isis.
I may not know much, but I know that ISIS is bad.
Also, they’re losing, which is good.
But what is clear is that Aleppo is one of the worst places to be even among Syria. In a four and a half year-long battle, all four of the major sides in the war had control of the city at different times and civilians were being actively bombed by most, if not everyone, and over 30,000 civilians died.
Probably way more than 30,000, but that’s the official count.
Heavy stuff, honestly. But it’s needed context.
Whew, that’s out of the way – now let’s get back to Micheal Madanly.
Madanly’s career started, naturally, with his hometown team, Al-Jalaa. [ipa pronunciation æl-ʒɑ-lə].
But playing basketball for them was only his second choice.
He’s been playing both basketball and soccer for their youth team, and he originally wanted to play soccer, but the year that he finally made the professional team, Syria’s soccer league was shut down for part of the year because of a promising political event called the damascus spring.
And while the soccer league was shut down, the basketball league wasn’t. And that was that.
After his rookie year, he was forced to serve four years with the military, which for him, since he was a high-profile athlete, meant he got to spend four years playing for military-run basketball teams instead of actually risking his life.
During his time for the military-run teams, he established himself as the best player in the country.
By 21, he won his first championship, and by 22, his first mvp.
And by 23, his second mvp. And then his third. And his fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth, all in a row, with five more titles sprinkled in there.
He was seen as Syria’s version of Michael Jordan, and he was celebrated as if he were an nba star playing in their country.
Until everything went terribly wrong.
See, Madanly and his family were christians. 87% of Syrians are Muslims. Islamism was a big factor in the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
With government crackdown on speech as severe as has been for decades there, the only places many people felt safe to meet in were mosques.
As a result, Islamic extremism skyrocketed, and so did crimes against christians.
Soon after the war broke out, Madanly’s brother, Habib was kidnapped by Islamist militants and held hostage for ten days.
Madanly came up with the money to pay for his brother’s release, and then their entire family fled the country, the two brothers to the united states and the rest of their family to the netherlands.
After defecting from syria, Micheal Madanly was quickly offered a large contract by a Chinese team called the Foshan Dralions, where he starred alongside NBA talents like Gerald Green, Rashad Mccants, Shavlik Randolph, and Marcus Haislip.
After his time playing in China was up, it was off to the Philippines and Lebanon, before finally moving up to the Netherlands to end his career with two years playing close to his family.
But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was returning to Syria.
No, he never went back to the war-torn country, don’t be crazy!
But after some convincing from his agent and close friend Samaki Walker, a former NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers who used to be teammates with Madanly – as the only nba player to have ever played in Syria, Madanly returned to play for his country in the FIBA Asia Cup in the summer of 2017, the first time representing his country since fleeing six years earlier.
And while they only won one game and finished tenth out of sixteen teams, that one win he helped them to over India must have felt like he’d finally conquered everything the country that he loves put him through.