Globetrotters used to be so special to us


I noticed that the Harlem Globetrotters are performing in Austin this week and I was instantly transformed back to my youth (which is getting further and further away).

In this age of non-stop entertainment where anything we desire is just a key punch away, events just seemed to have a higher level of anticipation.

There is no one that is the equivalent of Evel Knievel— no one. Whenever the flashy daredevil planned another death-defying event, it was huge. I’m talking front page of the newspaper huge.

Networks used to engage in a bidding war to televise his events. Howard Cosell covered it.

And we were glued to the television when he jumped a canyon or over a convoy of buses.

The Harlem Globetrotters were on the same level as far as we kids were concerned.

When they came to town, nothing else mattered.

I saw them about half-a-dozen times when I was living in Lafayette, Louisiana.

My autographed picture of Meadowlark Lemon, I got after a Globetrotter practice. My autographed picture of Meadowlark Lemon, I got after a Globetrotter practice. Lafayette was a basketball town and welcomed all kinds of hoop activity at Blackham Coliseum.

It even hosted about a dozen games a year for the old New Orleans ABA team the Buccaneers.

During the early 1970s—and led by scorer extraordinaire Dwight “Bo” Lamar—Southwestern Louisiana was a top five college basketball program that always packed the gym.

As far as the Globetrotters were concerned, we knew all their names, knew all their tricks.

Most familiar to us was the “clown prince of basketball”, Meadowlark Lemon, the Globetrotters pivot man and star.

At the height of his popularity, he would have been as well known as Michael Jordan.

He starred in a slew of commercials and endorsements.

They were ambassadors for the world. They were received by kings, queens, heads of states and popes.

When they traveled overseas, it was a huge deal.

On one of their appearances in Lafayette, I snuck into one of their practices and witnessed them working on their “shots”.

Kicking the ball in from half court like a field goal, the water bucket gag, the rubber band free throw.

Saw the great ball handler Curly Neal dribbling non-stop around the court.

One of Meadowlark’s great trick shots was shooting a hook shot from the corner of half court.

On my clandestine trip to the practice, I witnessed him practicing this shot. He whipped about a dozen hook shots at the goal.

He never missed once.

To a 12-year old boy, this was akin to witnessing a man landing on the moon.

Lemon, who is now 81, is a member of the basketball hall of fame.

I doubt if the Globetrotters are as revered as they once were, I couldn’t name one player on the team. They lost a lot of their audience when Lemon left the team in 1980 over a financial dispute to form his own team.

If the kids who are going to see them Thursday derive half as much pleasure as I did in seeing them, it’ll be something they can remember for the rest of their lives.

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2014-01-23 digital edition

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