By JAY R. NEILL
—Autograph May 2010
Growing up, some events are so special that the memory can last a lifetime. Seeing the Harlem Globetrotters perform is one of those events. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of watching the Globetrotters and their legendary brand of comedic basketball. Last December, I took my twin six year old boys to their first Globetrotters game and it provided not only wonderful entertainment, but great autographs as well.
The team was started in 1926, comprised entirely of African-American players, and with few exceptions, it has remained that way for 84 years. The Globetrotters were initially a serious competitive team, and despite a flair for entertainment, they would only clown around for the audience after establishing a safe lead in the game. They gradually worked comic routines into their act until they became known more for entertainment than basketball. The team has had a huge impact on race relations in the United States and they’ve become basketball’s ambassadors to the world. With a record of more than 23,000 wins and just 345 losses they own the best winning percentage (.985) in the history of professional sports.
It takes great players and a lot of talent to win so many games. The Harlem Globetrotters made me a basketball fan as a kid and they’re just as great today as they were 30 years ago. Let’s look at players past and present that would make a great addition to any autograph collection.
More than 130 million fans on six continents in 120 countries have enjoyed the magic of the Harlem Globetrotters in person. The players recognize and cherish their team history and it shows in their performances and attitudes. The team often makes special appearances in the cities in which they’ll be competing to help promote the game and support charities.
In December, “Moo Moo” Evans and my favorite Globetrotter ever, Fred “Curly” Neal appeared at the Cincinnati Redsfest to meet fans prior to their performance in Cincinnati, Ohio. Curly does promotional work for the team now and is one of the most amazing shooters and dribblers in the history of basketball. His career with the team ran from 1963-1985 and he played more than 6,000 games in 97 countries, resulting in his No. 22 being one of only five Harlem Globetrotters numbers to be retired.
The thrill of meeting Curly was one of the greatest of my collecting life and we were fortunate enough to have a picture, a basketball and a program signed by him. Basketball Hall of Famers Connie Hawkins and former Temple coach John Chaney were Globetrotters and they both sign through the mail. Even baseball Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins are former Globetrotters. Curly is not the only former player still involved with the team. Barry Hardy, Charles “Tex” Harrison, Clyde Sinclair and “Sweet” Lou Dunbar are all former players who now coach for the organization.
Even if you’re not a fan before a game begins, you will be by the time it’s over. To become a great Globetrotter takes more than just basketball skills—players have to be exceptional entertainers. Each Globetrotter performance has a “showman” that leads the team. Kevin “Special K” Daley and Nate “Big Easy” Lofton are the current headlining showmen, entertaining the fans and guiding the performance. “Big Easy” and teammate Herbert “Flight Time” Lang finished fourth during the most recent season of The Amazing Race on CBS and it was announced last October that a new Harlem Globetrotters cartoon will be going into production.
The current roster of 29 players all played college basketball, including “Slick” Willie Shaw, who holds the school record for most career three-pointers at St. John’s University, and Orlando “El Gato” Melendez who played in the 1998 and 2000 NCAA Final Four with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. He is the first Puerto Rican-born player to ever play for the Globetrotters.
While the current roster is made up entirely of men, eight women have played for the Globetrotters including 1984 Olympian Lynette Woodard, who became the first woman to play for the team in 1985. With so much history, it’s easy to see why in 2002 the organization became only the fifth team to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Globetrotters do something I wish all other sports teams would imitate. They set a clock for 30 minutes after the game and have all the players sign autographs for the fans. I couldn’t help but notice the extra kindness they showed to the children. We were able to get seven players’ autographs during the signing period, along with several pictures with players. Nothing beats the thrill of meeting the players, but if you can’t make it to a game, the team Web site allows you to contact the players directly by email at www.HarlemGlobetrotters.com. The “Team” tab takes you to the list of players.
If you’d like the autographs of any Globetrotter players or coaches, you can contact them in care of Harlem Globetrotters, 400 East Van Buren Suite 300, Phoenix, Ariz. 85004.
May Autograph Challenge
If you’d like to get a Harlem Globetrotter autograph in person, ask your parents to help you find the team schedule on their Web site. If you can’t make it to a game, choose a Harlem Globetrotter with the nickname that you like the best and write a super nice letter, then let your mail carrier do the work. If you get an answer, let me know! You can write me at JayNeill@AutographMagazine.com.