Al-Amin Hunafa always had a basketball in his hands, trying to improve his game, his older sister Betty Clark recalled of the 51-year-old Gulfport resident who died when Katrina came ashore Aug. 29.
Hunafa, 6-feet, 6-inches tall, played basketball through high school and at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he grew up. Later he worked in administration and was on a backup team for the Harlem Globetrotters organization, she said.
Born Milford Smith in Bowling Green, Mo., Hunafa embraced the Muslim religion and took on the name Al-Amin Hunafa about 15 years ago. He had lived on the Coast for about a year and was working in the landscaping business when Katrina hit.
Clark of Cedar Rapids was on the telephone with Hunafa from his Gulfport beachfront apartment when Katrina came ashore. He told her water was coming into the first floor and he was seeking refuge on the second floor when the phone went dead. It was a month before Clark learned the fate of her brother.
"He didn't take things too seriously," Clark said. "He didn't worry about stuff. He was happy-go-lucky. 'Don't worry. Not to worry,' that was his saying. 'I'm all right.' "
It was that optimism, Clark speculated, that caused Hunafa to stay during the storm.