A basketball star, a mysterious death and an FBI hunt for his 'dead' brother

Nothing about the disappearance of Bison Dele – a basketball star formerly of the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons – has been entirely orthodox.

He vanished without trace in the South Pacific with his girlfriend and the skipper of his private yacht.

What began as a disturbing loss of contact with his loved ones just over two months ago has mushroomed into an international manhunt stretching all the way from Tahiti to Arizona by way of Tijuana, on the Mexican border.

Suspect number one has been Dele's own brother, known variously as Miles Dabord or Kevin Williams, who vanished along with the others back in July but has since dropped clues about himself that look highly disturbing, to say the least. Earlier this month, Dabord showed up in Phoenix, Arizona, where he tried to buy $150,000 worth of gold coins using a cheque from his brother's account. Asked for an identity document, he produced his brother's passport. His brother, however, was nowhere to be seen.

Employees at the Phoenix establishment, Certified Mint, were suspicious enough to tip off the police, who took Dabord into custody on suspicion of fraud. Somehow, though, he talked his way out of the situation, and the next day he hopped on a plane to San Jose, California, not far from his home in the town of Palo Alto.

Last week, the mystery quickened as Dele's boat –– named Hakuna Matata after the phrase from the Disney film The Lion King – was found moored and abandoned at the distinctly unglamorous Tahitian port of Taravao. The yacht's name, meaning "no worries", had been painted over and replaced with a new name, Arabella.

In Tahiti, an FBI team discovered a number of witnesses who had seen Dabord, who is 6ft 8, leaving the 5-ft catamaran on 15 July and re-registering it under its new name.

Meanwhile, back on the West Coast, another FBI team tracked Dabord to Tijuana. They gave the Mexican police the name of a hotel and the Mexicans duly swooped. They found some of Dabord's possessions but there was no trace of him. They waited for him to return to his room, but he never showed. The hunt is still on.

In Tahiti, the FBI and the local French police are about to conduct a thorough search of the catamaran. Nobody is optimistic that the three missing are alive. The police are not all that hopeful, either, that they will find many clues about the way they met their end.

"My opinion is that the bodies are in the sea," one French officer told the Los Angeles Times. "The waters off our coast are very deep – planes have crashed and remain missing – so if the bodies have been [dumped] it will be impossible to find them."

Bison Dele was previously known as Brian Williams. He changed his name to honour his Native American ancestors. Why his brother also changed his name has not been made clear.