Our Night with the Harlem Globetrotters
"As long as families remain important in this world, the [Harlem] Globetrotters will remain a priority." Eathan O'Bryant
This year marks the 80th Anniversary of the Harlem Globetrotters, the remarkably gifted and entertaining team known as the "clown princes of basketball."
This month marks the 16th Anniversary of the night our son played basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters. When he was 8 years old. On a broken ankle.
That night at the Spectrum was beyond exciting. It's the kind of rare fantasy-come-true experience that lights up childhood memories. It was magical. Especially because he never saw it coming.
My niece worked in publicity for the Globetrotters and when they came to Philly she got us floor seats. I was thrilled since I'd been a Harlem Globetrotters fan as a kid, when "Meadowlark" Lemon was their star.
Mike had never heard of them, but it took about 30 seconds for him to become entranced with the players' skill and their antics. We cheered as they "beat" the tar out of the poor Washington Generals throughout the first half.
Then Karen led us back to the locker room where the players were nice enough to autograph Mike's bright green cast. I have that part on video. Unfortunately we were forbidden to use any cameras during the game. You'll see why that still kills me now.
Mike's broken ankle, by the way, came from a too vigorous basketball game at school. Even as a 3rd grader, he played to win.
So back to the 2nd half of the Globetrotters game. That's when they traditionally pull a little kid from the audience to "play" on their team. Karen, bless her, had arranged for them to choose Mike.
Though nobody knows it, the routine is carefully scripted. The 'Trotters bring the kid to the foul line, give him a few tries to make a basket. When he can't do it, their star center lifts him up to dunk the ball.
The other team fakes outrage, yells foul. The referees confer, shake their fingers at the 'Trotters and the kid, who's back down on the floor looking happy, if confused, while the 'Trotters claim he's a legitimate player.
At least, that's the way it's supposed to go.
So they bring Mike onto the court -- a regular sneaker on his good foot, a huge matching sneaker I'd fitted onto his neon green cast. Already a crowd-pleaser and a perfect foil for the 'Trotters.
The players ceremoniously lead him to the foul line, hand him the ball, tell him to shoot. They're all poised to begin their act. The crowd is loving the small "player" with the big cast, looking even smaller standing there on the Spectrum floor next to his over sized "team mates".
Nobody but Mike knows he's taking this totally seriously. He bounces the ball a couple times, checks the distance to the basket. The players pretend to look at their watches, start tapping their toes. The crowd is laughing, cheering, yelling, "Give him time! Let him try!" The referees quiet everyone down, tell him go ahead and shoot.
Mike's knees bend, hands cupping the ball, eyes on the basket. He lifts off, weight on his good foot, lofts the ball ... and makes the shot. Nothing. But. Net.
The place erupts. Fifteen thousand people go nuts. The players and the referees are caught flatfooted -- it's not in the script. And Mike's just standing there, proud of himself, but looking at them like, "What? You told me to make a basket, so I did."
They pick him up and carry him around the court while the crowd screams. Then they go into a huddle at center court, Mike in the middle, lost from view. When they open the circle he emerges in full Globetrotter uniform, shirt hanging to his knees, shorts almost to his ankles.
The cheering contines. And Mike continues to play. He makes one more basket on his own, another when they finally lift him for the ceremonial dunk. After the game's over they all sign an official ball and shake his hand.
That's the ball up there in the picture, ink faded now, but still legible. And that's the bright green cast he was wearing. Mementos of a night we'll never forget.
Tune in to MNT TV tonight at 8 PM Eastern, listen to the bouncing rhythm of "Sweet Georgia Brown," meet Mike's former teammates "Curly" Neal, "Sweet" Lou Dunbar and others.
And let a new generation of Harlem Globetrotters steal your hearts.