One by one, the lights turned off, darkening a Boys and Girls Club gymnasium in north Minneapolis.
But Khalid El-Amin, who had just finished coaching his 11-year-old son Ishmael's summer basketball team, couldn't stop talking about what he sees ahead for the community in which he was raised.
The man who gained local legend status by leading Minneapolis North to three consecutive state high school titles in the '90s wants to build a new gymnasium nearby.
His family restaurant, El-Amin's Fish House, is a fixture off West Broadway that he hopes will evolve into a chain.
He sees more summer camps and sponsorships of additional teams for his basketball program, El-Amin Basketball.
Through another family venture, El-Amin Properties, he promises to help clean up the urban blight that has dogged the community as the economy has declined.
"It sets a positive example," said community activist Ron Edwards, who writes a column for the Spokesman-Recorder. "Right now, the African-American community needs that. ... He's been a very positive model of success."
El-Amin was a basketball prodigy when he starred for North as an eighth-grader. He won an NCAA national title with Connecticut in 1999 and playing briefly in the NBA before forging a successful overseas career.
In an era where athletes blow up and move on to wealthier zip codes, El-Amin remembers his roots.
"You have to leave a legacy here on Earth before you go and I hope, God willing, I can do that," he said.
Still going strong
El-Amin dribbled twice, wrapped the ball around his stocky frame and nearly finished the play Tuesday night.
Although his shot rolled off the rim, the crowd at the Salvation Army watching the Howard Pulley summer league "Oohed!" in unison.
"He's a really fast, good point guard," said Jessica Hart, a junior point guard for Eagan who was among those who showed up to watch El-Amin.
The team he sponsors, El-Amin's Fish House, won the league championship last year.
Local basketball fans generally have two questions about El-Amin's career. The first is why he ended up at UConn after originally giving a verbal commitment to the Gophers.
"I get asked that a lot," El-Amin said. "But my reasoning for not coming to the University of Minnesota was plainly based on I wanted to win a national championship.''
Former Gophers coach Clem Haskins, who said he knew El-Amin had special qualities when he saw him play for the first time as a sixth-grader, said he never harbored hard feelings against El-Amin.
"That's part of basketball," Haskins said.
The other question is why El-Amin hasn't received another shot in the NBA. The Chicago Bulls picked him up in the second round of the 2000 NBA draft. El-Amin scored 18 points in the league's All-Star weekend rookie game that season. But within a year, he was out of the league.
"The Timberwolves never even gave Khalid a chance to come here," said Rene Pulley, founder of the Howard Pulley league. "And they needed point guards."
El-Amin, however, said he doesn't have any regrets about his brief NBA tenure.
"It just taught me how to be a professional,'' he said. "Coming in from college, I was the main guy on the team, one of the stars on the team, but in the NBA I wasn't. So it just really humbled me in a way. Humbled my game. But I understand if I was going to make it, I was going to have to work hard."
Bombs and basketball
He didn't find his professional footing until he signed with a team in France in 2002, the beginning of a lucrative overseas career. He's played basketball internationally since.
In May, he led his team, BC Budivelnyk in Kiev, to Ukraine's Superleague championship game, scoring 24 points in 38 minutes during a 77-70 loss.
Thus far, El-Amin has made stops in France, Turkey and Israel. A 2009 Sports Illustrated story said the Minneapolis product makes nearly a $1 million a year.
El-Amin said those numbers aren't accurate. But he does make enough to fly his mom and siblings overseas to watch him play. And the monster SUV he drives around town certainly didn't come cheap. "I usually go to the highest bidder," El-Amin said about his method for choosing a new international team each season.
El-Amin commands a good salary overseas because of the level of success he's attained internationally. El-Amin's brother, Makram, said fans in other countries treat him like a king.
During one game in Turkey, a Muslim country, the crowd hushed itself when Khalid El-Amin went to the free-throw line. When he made one at the charity stripe, fans collectively screamed "Amin!" -- Muslims conclude some of their prayers with the word "Ah-meen."
Suicide bombers set off explosives at a nearby bank and British consulate in Instanbul, killing 30 people and injuring more than 400, when he was playing for a team in Turkey in 2003. His family, which was staying with him at the time, was unharmed.
"You could see the mushroom cloud in the air," El-Amin said. "Once I found out they were OK, it was kind of a 'whoo' feeling. It was scary. But for that scary instance, I can tell you 10 good stories."
El-Amin married his wife in 1998 when he was 17. They have six kids together.
For the majority of his career, he's played ball for nine-month stretches in foreign countries while his family remained in the Twin Cities. Last year, he brought his family to Ukraine, where his kids attended school.
They didn't know how to order food in Ukrainian restaurants and needed help reading street signs, but they're thankful for a chance to learn about new cultures.
"It was very different from school in Minnesota," Ishmael said. "... It's a lot of fun, actually. It was a new change."
His father goes through the opposite transition every year.
El-Amin, who speaks "enough" French, Russian and Turkish to function, said it takes time to get reacquainted with American culture when he returns to the States.
"I tend to speak broken English," he said. "I speak slowly, like people don't understand."
Once he steps off the plane in Minneapolis, El-Amin barely has time to breathe.
"When I get home, it seems like I'm always running," he said. "I'm up early, I don't go to sleep 'til late. Seems like it's not enough hours in the day when I get home."
If he achieves all his goals -- which include a new facility for El-Amin Basketball, the desire to expand his restaurant to other locations and to buy up foreclosed properties in north Minneapolis -- he will have even less time.
"Clearly he has a vision on what he really wants to do and to see," Makram El-Amin said. "There's a level of frustration by him as well. There's not enough time in the day. ... He's got his hand in a lot of things."
El-Amin said his desire to maintain a place in his community comes from values passed down from his parents, Arlene and Charles, who taught him and four siblings to help those who helped them and to become self-sufficient, tenets of the Muslim faith. They also stressed that nothing should be taken for granted, a lesson El-Amin learned in high school when his mom pulled him off the basketball team for a short time because of academic issues.
"He didn't do what he was supposed to do, so he had to suffer the consequences," Arlene El-Amin said. "To not be able to play, hopefully it resonated that there's more to this than playing a ballgame."
El-Amin's business ventures support that motto. The restaurant, which El-Amin helped get off the ground when it opened in 2000, provides jobs for men and women in the community. And it recently earned a sustainability and longevity award from St. Paul's Neighborhood Development Center (NDC).
"I think they've done a magnificent job in keeping their business located in their neighborhood," said Bonita Martin, NDC's training program director. "They're making enough money where they could leave, but they've decided to stay.''
But the restaurant, the upstart basketball program and the real estate plans are just the beginning, El-Amin said.
"Here in Minneapolis is where I'm born and raised," he said. "I will always be involved with this community here. This community has embraced me, nurtured me, taught me. It wouldn't be right if I didn't remain here and give something back to the community."
Khalid El-Amin talks about his plans for the future in a video, and see more pictures in a photo gallery at startribune.com.