PORTLAND, Maine — Over the summer, the city’s Expo building served as a makeshift shelter. From June through the middle of August, more than 400 asylum seekers — mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo — slept on folding cots lining the basketball court.
On Friday night, no sign of them remained, but an African man was still at the center of attention. More than 2,000 fans spent the night cheering for 7-foot-6 Senegalese basketball sensation Tacko Fall as he and the Maine Red Claws beat the Fort Wayne Mad Ants 103-100 in the home opener.
Though he did not start, and it was only his second NBA G League game, much of the crowd was clearly there to see Fall. A roar went up when he first stepped on the court to warm up.
A bigger blast came when he got into the game with 8:27 remaining in the first quarter. Fall relieved starting center Yante Maten, who jokingly waved to the crowd and smiled as if the hooting was for him. Fans went wild again when Fall scored his first field goal three minutes later. He finished the game with 16 points.
In the stands, a man held a T-shirt reading: “Wacko for Tacko.” A quartet of friends from Calais Elementary School wore matching taco (as in the food) outfits in honor of their new hero.
Near the end of the first half, Fall dunked in the face of an opponent, sending the sellout crowd into near hysterics.
“I’ve been here seven years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” Red Claws spokesman Evans Boston said.
Fall, whose full name is Elhadji Serigne Tacko Diop Fall, was a preseason phenomenon with the Boston Celtics, the parent club of the Red Claws. An imposing shot blocker with decent agility and an ability to score, fans were often chanting at Boston coach Brad Stevens to give him minutes.
Fall has a two-way contract. It’s a deal where NBA teams can sign a player to their G League team for just under $80,000 — but pay him a daily NBA rookie wage for up to 45 days where he is called up to the big club, which could work out to another $200,000 or more.
Though playing in Boston is a possibility, Fall, 23, is expected to spend most of this season in Portland.
Troy R. Bennett
Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.
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