At some point the Harlem Globetrotters ceased being anything in particular. The question of whether they really were a basketball team became cloudy long ago and, mercifully, it has been years since they were forced upon us as Ambassadors of Goodwill. Nowadays the Globetrotters refer to themselves as "family entertainment," but that merely informs us that they perform in clothes. They are part show biz, part sporting event and part Jack Benny; they are too spontaneous and sprightly to be an institution, too organized and profitable to be an NBA. Years ago, of course, they became a legend in their own time.
Definition has always been an intramural problem. Abe Saperstein, who owned the Globies until his death in 1966, wasn't satisfied that they brought him riches and fame.
He yearned after both a New York Yankee respectability for his team and a Hollywood acceptance for himself. Now that the Globetrotters are a fancy corporation and more successful than ever, the management is hung up on the irrelevant matter of how good the team is—which is about as germane as wondering if Victor Borge could outplay Van Cliburn in straight piano. Moreover, while the Globies provided pride and opportunity for blacks for decades, they now labor in the shadow of Uncle Tom; they are paid, as ever, by white bosses—once immigrant Jewish, now old money country club—to make white audiences laugh.
While none of these contradictions may be easily resolved, there is one absolute in the equation, and that is children. Seeing the Harlem Globetrotters is part of growing up, and that is quite different from just being family entertainment. The Globies are something every father wants every child to see—for the child, and for memories of his own childhood, and in that way a Globetrotter game is perhaps a rite more than anything else.
December 3, 1973
Since changelessness is such a large part of the attraction, Marques Haynes holds a special position. He has recently returned to the organization, folding his own Fabulous Magicians in the deal, and the fathers are especially anxious to bring their children to meet him. It is some kind of communion for the father and the child to know that the father saw Marques dribble in a Globetrotter uniform 25 years ago, just as the child did this night. Marques has to encourage the fathers to speak up. "They want their children to be aware of this," he says, "but they're reluctant to say it right out for fear that the years will embarrass me."
Marques is now 46 or 51 or something or other; he played organized basketball when a center jump was still required after every basket. Marie Linehan, Saperstein's clever assistant, joined the organization before Marques, and perhaps only she understands the mystique as well as he does. "I think what it is with the Globetrotters is that the kids have to believe in something," she says, "and they don't believe in Santa Claus anymore. The Globetrotters give them the myth with reality. They win every game, so they are miracle men, which means the kids don't have to make a decision about them. And the kids know what's going to happen in every game, they know the whole scenario. But you see, this doesn't disturb them. On the contrary, it makes the kids more a part of it."
It is rather astonishing how often the word "love" pops up in children's letters to the Globetrotters.
Wouldn't it be to some advantage if the Globies lost just occasionally now and then? No big slump, you understand, but isn't it just a wee bit piggy to run off 2,495 wins in a row?
"Why?" replies Meadowlark Lemon, dead serious. "Nobody likes a loser."
Yes, of course. But 2,495?
"Who likes a loser?"
It is difficult to argue with the dogmatic Globetrotter way of things. While there is a tendency to dismiss them as old hat, they are more successful, more popular than in all their 46 years. Saperstein's estate sold the operation in 1967 for $3,710,000, a startling price at the time but a bargain in hindsight. The buyers were three young Chicago businessmen—Potter Palmer, George Gillett and John O'Neil. For the Globies, they went public with Globetrotter Communications Inc. and diversified by adding such things as radio stations and sporting goods. In 1972 the corporation made a profit of $1,800,000, of which $875,000 was earned by the Globies.
The Globetrotters are involved in marketing some 35 products, and they pick up pin money by handling sales of their theme song, Brother Bones' rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown. They play before two million fans a year, at 91% of capacity. With Haynes' Magicians in mothballs, the Globetrotters have the whole field to themselves, except for a few vagabond station-wagon outfits that hustle games against local disc jockeys in high school gyms.
"Anyway, let's face it, the name—Harlem Globetrotters—is more important than any particular player out there," says Stan Greeson, the 44-year-old president of the club, who formerly managed such entertainers as Peter Nero and Soupy Sales. "What we do is totally unique. We're practically the only G-rat-ed entertainment left in town. Even the circus has skimpily clad girls now."
Even the Globetrotters have skimpily clad girls now. Leastwise, the busty Spanish juggler who toured with the team this summer looked like a girl; certainly the players would come out of their locker room early to see her. But there is a time for everything. In the 1940s, when the Globetrotters were the greatest team in the world, it was their clowning that distinguished them.
Inman Jackson, who died only a few months ago, first started the funny stuff, but it was the late Goose Tatum who was the premier showman when the team came to national prominence right after the war. Haynes left in 1953 and Tatum in 1955 to strike out against Saperstein with their Fabulous Magicians, and there was an interregnum of three years before Meadowlark assumed the Clown Prince mantle.
Sam Wheeler, who has only the nubs of three fingers, was first given a shot at the showman's role, and then Showboat Hall had his chance. As inconsistent as he is inspired, Showboat still works the second unit along with Hubie (Geese) Ausbie, but Lemon is unquestionably top banana. Meadowlark makes about $85,000 a year, and when the two units consolidate for the summer tour Lemon is assigned the pivot as showman for three quarters, Ausbie for one.
At 35, Geese is five years Lemon's junior, and he is a much more spontaneous comedian, though hampered by the fact that he has uncommonly small hands for a man 6'5". Meadowlark, though, is at the height of his comic powers, and even Haynes rates him nearly on a par with Goose Tatum. Lemon's accomplishment is founded in his organization. Goose was naturally Goose, as Geese is Geese, but Meadowlark is a contrived character.
Lemon was frankly ambitious to succeed Tatum. He practiced ball handling in hotel rooms, laid awake thinking up new routines—"reems" in Globetrotter argot—and even practiced mugging in front of mirrors. Then he coordinated the whole show around him. The more one sees it, the more it is appreciated not so much as a comic exposition but as a precision drill.
Like many clowns, Lemon is not personally funny, although he gives the distinct impression that he is purposely casting himself as more serious than he really is off the court. He is only 6'2"—people expect him to be 6'8"—and he does not possess a rubber face, merely a mournful one with deep eye. But he is a consummate professional, utterly devoted to his craft.
"Meadow'll have a splitting headache," says teammate Nate Branch. "He won't let Doc near him with an aspirin, but he hears that announcer say, 'Globetrotters!' and he pulls his head up and goes two hours as if nothing is bothering him."
The team's appreciation of Lemon is, however, circumscribed by his temperament; what he calls a drive for perfection teammates see as jealousy and self-doubt. "The man must know he is a great comedian," one says, "so maybe he is just insecure as a player. He'll scream at you not to shoot just as you release the ball, and if you hit a couple in a row he'll really get on you. None of this has anything to do with the show, either, just with Meadow's ego. Oh, well, they say Goose was the same damn way."
Lemon jumped both Wilt Chamberlain and Connie Hawkins when they were with the team, presumably for upstaging him, and while Chamberlain makes no big deal of the incident—in fact, he calls his year with the Globies "the happiest of my life"—Hawkins was a merciless critic of Lemon in his biography, Foul. Lemon is more generous in return. "Connie Hawkins is the only big man I ever saw who could fit in with us as if he were a six-footer," he volunteers, adding: "He could have been the greatest player alive, but he never put out, not here, not in the league." In fact, Lemon maintains that their celebrated locker-room skirmish in Czechoslovakia came about simply because Hawkins was "shagging" (goofing off) and Lemon told him to hustle.
"We're only playing for pride out there," Meadow says. "We got no pennant to push us. Some of the fellows don't understand either that this is a family-type entertainment. We're playing to please. I'll say, 'Why did you shoot?' They'll say, 'I was open,' and they don't understand that it may be no good for the show even if they make it."
Lemon's predecessor, Tatum, may have been even more complex. An itinerant preacher's son, Goose hated travel and liked to be alone. "I been around too much," he declared once, closing the subject. Several years after he left the Globies he had to serve time for tax evasion and died penniless in 1967 at the age of 45.
Saperstein, Tatum's mentor and nemesis alike, had died the year before. For much of his life, Saperstein was painted not only as the Ambassador of Goodwill but also as a stubby, road-show Abe Lincoln. In retrospect, it is apparent that Saperstein took a great deal more from blacks than he gave. Certainly, he took all the credit; he wallowed in publicity. "It was a dictator thing with him," Haynes says.
With little opportunity elsewhere, the players were forced to endure the Saperstein system. "We were just happy to be playing ball," says Sweetwater Clifton, who now drives a cab in Chicago. "I don't know, I guess they'd call that Tomming today." The players were poorly paid; Haynes never made more than $13,800, and he doubts if Tatum did better. It was a buyer's market, and Saperstein worked to keep it that way by threatening to boycott NBA arenas if the league broke the color line. His pressure helped hold off integration until 1950, when the Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper. "OF Abe sure pitched a bitch when he heard about that," says a former Globie. "He knew then that he could no longer be the great white father."
Still, Saperstein continued to represent such authority that, according to Globetrotter Bobby Joe Mason, even in the 1960s no player would dare shoot a jumper when Abe was at a game. Abe was an oldtime set-shot ace who viewed the jump shot as a defilement of the sport, and he might fire anyone who tried one. Moreover, he had paid informants on the team who would disclose player secrets to him. In their paranoia some Globies fear that this sinister procedure is still in effect.
Saperstein also kept his players on tenterhooks by forcing some veterans to try out for the team from scratch every fall. Some of the shrewder Globetrotters managed to beat the boss at his own game, however. One would call him up nearly every off-season, put on his best field-nigger accent and moan into the phone:
"Skip [Saperstein greatly fancied being called Skip], Skip, you got to help me out with $500. The white mens down heah gwanna sho nuff put me in jail lessen you send me $500 right prompt."
Abe would chuckle at the player's plight, wire the money and then notify the coach to make sure that the fellow made the team again—so he could get the $500 back out of his salary.
Curiously, while he was so penurious with his players, Saperstein was frequently scatterbrained when it came to money. He is supposed to have once left a paper bag containing $40,000 in gate receipts in a restaurant and while that tale may be apocryphal, Saperstein ran the operation so haphazardly that few people had a clear idea of its true value when he died. But he was a scrupulously honest man, and tremendously loyal. In many cities he stuck with bad promoters who were old friends, and to this day arena officials snicker that the Globies still give local promoters too big a cut and waste money on needless advertising and promotional expenditures.
Saperstein was never much celebrated in his hometown, Chicago, and yearned for the day when the NBA moved to California; it was his understanding that he would be granted the Los Angeles (read Hollywood) franchise as tribute for his years of devotion to the league; the Globies often performed on the same bill with struggling NBA teams to swell the gate. When Bob Short was permitted to shift the Minneapolis Lakers to L.A., Abe was shattered by what he regarded as a double cross. In return, he literally refused to utter a word to some of his dearest NBA friends, and in retaliation he went out and invented the American Basketball League. Unfortunately, it lasted but one and a half seasons; not even the Harlem Globetrotters could play on enough twin bills to save the likes of the Pittsburgh Rens and the Hawaii Chiefs.
Perhaps because of that bitter experience, Saperstein's heart appeared to go out of basketball in his last years. Bob Ashley, whose clever table-tennis exhibitions were featured on the Globie show bill for two years, recalls: "Abe wanted somebody else to take care of the Globetrotters. The other acts became his real babies." At one time or other, Cab Callaway, Peg Leg Bates, Tony Lavelli and Althea Gibson (vs. Karol Fageros) appeared with the team, but near the end Saperstein got a Sol Hurok complex and stiffed his own shows with Culture. Though he was only 5'3" and roly-poly, Abe was a great womanizer, and at the height of his Hurok phase he brought over a Czechoslovakian dance troupe, 30 or 40 strong, because he was chasing one of the ballerinas.
Saperstein's enchantment with show biz did not materially affect the players, though, at least not their wallets. For that matter, nothing much changed for them even after his death, so in 1971 they went on strike. To the public, it was as if Santa Claus' elves had gone out. The strike lasted about three weeks, but the players finally settled, in large part because Lemon sided with management and was, near the end, out recruiting for a replacement team.
Potter Palmer says he was "personally hurt" by the strike and blames much of it on a communications gap, but surely, after four years of ownership, he must have been aware of the residual Saperstein inequities. Larry Lindberg, a film director who traveled with the team for a month shortly before the strike, felt obliged to buy meals for the players because many of them did not have enough money to eat. "It was hard to expect people to be funny for a camera when they were hungry," he says.
The strike was complicated emotionally, too, because for the first time the charge was being circulated that the Globetrotters were Uncle Toms. Haynes swears that he was in the business for a quarter of a century before that possibility was even hinted to him (by Arthur Ashe, the tennis player), but David Wolf's biography of Connie Hawkins and a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal gave the notion widespread currency. No black organization has ever taken the Globetrotters to task, however, and many black celebrities—notably Bill Cosby, who has a dollar-a-year contract with the team—clearly endorse what the Globetrotters stand for by playing in their games.
Predictably, the players do not feel they are degrading their race, and most of them say the matter never comes up anymore, anyway. John Smith, a quiet junior high school teacher whose father is chairman of the Arizona Civil Rights Commission, says simply, "How can you Uncle Tom when you're making money?" Lemon argues, "Look, if I'm Tomming by making people laugh, then all comedians, white or black, are Uncle Toms."
The stereotype character that both Lemon and Ausbie (and Tatum before them) feature does not appear racial but effeminate: falsetto voice, mincing steps, a lot of goosing and tickling. If anybody has a right to be offended, it is a member of the Gay Liberation Front. Besides, it is the whites in the show who are cast as buffoons, though black critics, among them Lacy J. Banks, a Chicago columnist, suggest that this "implausible" situation is a "sedative" employed to placate blacks who are "taking a beating in housing, employment, health and education...."
Obviously, the solution to the dilemma is to integrate the Harlem Globetrotters. This may sound mad on the face of it, like working donkeys in with Lipizzans, but it wouldn't be unprecedented. In recent years the Globies considered signing two whites—Rick Barry and Pete Maravich—and three whites have actually appeared in the Globetrotter lineup: Saperstein himself; a free-throw shooting specialist named Bunny Levitt; and Bob Karstens, a big pivot man who starred for about 18 months in 1942-43.
The first modern white Globie will be, one fervently hopes, a credit to his race; he will surely get a lot of ink. The Globetrotters (in Saperstein's day, anyway) have always been in the news, making headlines whenever they land in an exotic new country. Unfortunately for them, now that a man has hit a golf ball on the moon and the World Hockey Association has put a franchise in Winnipeg, wirephoto headquarters no longer go on standby alert just because the Ambassadors of Goodwill have touched down in Luxembourg.
But for old times' sake, here is a compendium to boggle your mind: the Globetrotters have gone completely around the globe on three occasions and have traveled more than six million miles. They have played before 75 million people who, if stacked end to end, would stretch from Waycross, Ga. to Mars and back to Provo, Utah. Once, in Berlin, the Globies performed before the largest basketball crowd ever—75,000—which is many more folks than live in Bangor, Maine, not to mention the whole Standard Metropolitan Area of Laredo, Texas. The Harlem Globetrotters have played in 89 countries (for a complete list, send 25¢ for handling and a large, self-addressed envelope to...). The last country they graced was New Caledonia, and they are running low on nations, which is why the management is a little ticked off with President Nixon because he didn't send the Globies to Red China instead of two musk oxen. The team has had five papal audiences, tying a record presumably held by Georgie Jessel. The Globetrotters also have met the late, great Nikita Khrushchev and the Duke of Edinburgh. They have played in bullrings, fish markets, airplane hangars and in the bottom of a drained swimming pool. They have performed in 100° heat and at 22 below. They have played in 1,341 different U.S. towns and cities. In 1969 they even got around to playing a game in Harlem.
Nowadays the Globetrotter travel style has all the romance of a drive on the New Jersey Turnpike. Everything is always the same: the reems, the scores, the buses, the airplanes, the opponents, the cassette tapes. Globetrot? Hardly. Instead, like Japanese tourists, they appear to be shipped.
In the States, where the Globies play an unrelenting schedule of one-nighters from October to April (four days off at Christmas), the team travels almost exclusively in a special bus. Most of the seats have been removed so that the players have leg room, and there are a refrigerator, toilet and card table aboard. The bus never stops between game sites. For amusement, the Globetrotters engage in endless games of bid whist, which they play in set pairs. Lemon carries a log-book that is periodically updated to show complete bid-whist standings: wins, losses and games behind. This is the real competition in their lives.
The International Unit, the one led by Ausbie and Showboat Hall, often goes abroad in the winter, and every spring a combined unit plays Europe for a couple of months. The routine is so well orchestrated that one evening this past June between games of a doubleheader in Naples the players complained because the caterers had supplied them with a dinner consisting of half a chicken and fresh fruit instead of their customary complete hot meal. By now, this is considered roughing it.
Since the strike, the minimum salary has nearly doubled to $13,200, and the average is $29,000. The players make double pay for doubleheaders and hard courts. They stay in private rooms in first-class hotels. By contrast, the opposition team, which travels in a VW bus and station wagon, must double up in hotels and make only what the Globies call "teacher's salary"—$7,000 to $10,000.
The Opposition is variously disguised as the Washington Generals (everybody's favorite), New York Nationals, Jersey Reds, Boston Shamrocks (but never in London), Atlantic City Gulls or Chicago Demons, but the Globies refer to them simply as the Opposition.
In Europe everybody travels together, a spectacular Babel of about 35 persons, including Globies, Opposition, an ever-changing group of other acts that make up the full bill, various wives and children and sundry support troops. The Globetrotters always sit in the front of the bus, Lemon in the seat directly behind the driver. Farther back last summer were Rinaldo and Mario, the announcers; Bob Ashley and Darryl Flann, the table-tennis pros; The Great Leonardo, a little guy who spins plates; Vino Venito, a sword balancer who looks like Count Dracula, and his wife Carol, a Philadelphia girl: the Kalbris, an Italian family of tumblers; Trio Biarge, a Spanish family of jugglers; Ron Stjernholm, the trainer; Joe Celentano, a retired chief petty officer, who is the referee; J.C. Gipson, a retired Globie who is the prop man; and Tom Brennan, a retired member of the Opposition who is in charge of the tour.
There were cameras strapped about their necks and gaily colored shopping bags full of presents for home but, unlike other tourists, the Globies have seen it all before. They are not searching out the unique, but falling back on the familiar. "Hey, B.J.," Jerry Venable called to Mason and his wife Joy as soon as the players, preregistered, picked up their keys at their hotel in Naples, "you gonna eat up on the hill or down in the alley? That was the only decision to be made—at which of the two Globetrotter-certified restaurants to eat. And at Umberto, down in the alley, the players greeted old friends on the staff and began ordering precisely the same dishes they dined on a year ago.
"Traveling is altogether different now," says Brennan, who has been with the Globies since he got out of Villanova 20 years ago. Efficient and imperturbable, he once managed to take the Globetrotters and the Opposition from Innsbruck, Austria to Athens, Greece without a single member of the group having a ticket or a passport in his possession. "You used to be able to bull your way through," Brennan says, "but now everybody is traveling and you have to sweettalk to get anything done."
"We were much closer knit, a family, in the days of Abe," Lemon says, but it is still a tight unit. "If someone is missing, you can feel his absence," Venable says. A Globetrotter must be, as Lemon says he is by now, "programmed to travel," for whereas many pro athletes complain about a 17-day road trip to the Coast, the Globies may be away almost nine months running.
Three days after he got married, Nate Branch left for Chicago and a tryout with the team; he did not see his bride for another six months. "It never gets any easier," he says. "The last time I left home, my little boy grabbed me at the airport, and said, "Don't go, Daddy.' You know what that does to you? My mother said I better leave right away. I heard him crying and calling to me all the way to the gate, but I couldn't look back once or I never could have left."
Marriage is stretched taut. "It's rougher on the wives than on us," Theodis Lee admits; the Globetrotters, after all, have themselves. Proximity is such an occupational circumstance that, as on submarines, a man's personality counts heavily in whether or not he will make the team. Both the Globies and the Opposition get along with each other remarkably well; they direct antagonisms away from the group toward the world passing swiftly by them.
The Globetrotters hold no brief for anything outside America. They are not so much the Ambassadors of Goodwill now as they are Neo-America Firsters. They talk incessantly about how well America works, and regularly the suggestion is heard that people who dare complain about the States should be sentenced to spend time away. They do not sound a whole lot different from prisoners of war. Some Globetrotters have gotten down and kissed the ground upon arriving back in the good ol' U.S. of A.
To try to sample a taste of home in Naples, Nate Branch and Bob Ashley, a U.S. pro table tennis champion, hired a cab and headed out to the American-dominated NATO base. Branch is the shrewdest and friendliest of the Globies. He owns a nightclub, Trotters In, in Los Altos, Calif. and has formed an act with Meadowlark named Lemonbranch; Meadow sings, Nate plays the organ. While Branch may be a natural extrovert, any Globetrotter has an edge over most other traveling Americans. That is because of the soul-brother network; strange blacks will help each other much more readily than will strange whites. At the base, Branch checked the gate to see if a black was on guard.
Actually, Globetrotters rarely use the word "black." Members of their race are "rocks," whites are "you-alls." A rock was posted at the gate. "We're O.K., Bob," Branch assured Ashley. He flipped the rock his team ID card, mumbled some blarney about a colonel "whose name started with C or K" who had invited them to the base, and he and Ashley were through the gate. The guard assigned an airman first class to escort the visitors to the enlisted men's club.
The A/1C was a you-all and just out of high school in Nebraska, where Branch had played college ball. They talked about Omaha and Lincoln. The kid wanted to know everything about home. Branch and Ashley had a hamburger and a beer, then a cheeseburger and a beer. The kid talked about how much he hated Naples, how much he wanted to get back to the States. All around him, like zombies, servicemen played slot machines, killing time, expressionless even when they hit a jackpot. Branch watched the scene sadly and with pity. "I can't feel so sorry for myself being away when I see this," he said. The A/1C asked what Ontario, Calif. was like, as his parents had just moved out there from Nebraska. Ashley, who is from Los Angeles, told him as much as he could. "I'd sure love to see Ontario, California," the kid said.
With that, Branch sprang up and strode to the bar. There must have been about 40 enlisted men in the place. He told the bartender to buy everyone in the house a drink on him.
The kind of institutional traveling the Globies do can be insulating. "The longer they stay on the road, the better they think they are," one heretical member of the front office admits. By and large, the organization fervently believes that the Globetrotters are still world-beaters.
John Smith, a smooth 6'8" second-year man, is generally conceded to be the best pure player on the team. He was cut by weak clubs in the NBA and ABA, yet Phil Brownstein, the team scout, declares unequivocally that the Globies could beat every club in the pros except for the Lakers, when they had Chamberlain, and the Bucks, with Abdul-Jabbar. President Greeson and several of the players are only slightly more reserved in their estimation of the team's ability.
Although it is comedy and not quality that packs the houses, management boasts that it never looks for potential entertainers, but seeks out the best players (with big hands). Anyway, whatever it is that perpetuates this policy of delusion, the Globetrotters remain invincible in Globetrotterland.
"We're not good enough to beat them one time out of 10 even if we played them straight basketball," says Jimmy Hebron, the little Opposition playmaker from Wilmington (N.C.) College. The principal concern is that the Globies will win too easily. "They lay down on us, it doesn't look as good," Meadowlark Lemon says. The ideal working spread is considered to be about 10 or 15 points.
Most of the Opposition were run-of-the-mill small-college heroes recruited by word of mouth. In their station and outlook, they most resemble stewardesses. They are single, only recently out of college, perform a necessary simple service and like the idea of traveling for a while and meeting people. Although nearly all of the Opposition are you-alls, race seems less of a differential between them and the Globetrotters than age.
There are a few exceptions. Sam Sawyer, a rock from Atlantic City, has been guarding Meadowlark for so long that he has been put on the Globetrotter payroll. Jim Boyle, who headed the New York Nationals in Europe last summer, has been losing for six full years, or since he graduated from Temple. And Red Klotz, who owns one Opposition franchise, is going on 52 and still playing. Klotz averaged 1.4 points in 11 games with the Baltimore Bullets in the year of our Lord 1948 and since then has lost so regularly to the Globies that some people believe he is a running character. A man came up to him not long ago and asked, "Are you the original Red Klotz?"
Actually, Klotz takes his job seriously, ranting and raving at his team during halftimes. After all, the Opposition is not supposed to try to lose. However, since it must stand still for so many show baskets—upwards of 20 a game—there is, as Jim Boyle wryly noted, "only a random chance" that the Opposition can possibly win. It last happened on Jan. 5, 1971 in Martin, Term.
The Opposition is made to feel part of the show, though. Smith, the Globie second-year man, says opponents as well as teammates would chastise him if he shot at the wrong time. "Nobody on the Globetrotters is ever condescending to us," says Denny Walsh, who played at Providence and is probably the best Opposition player. "They accept us for what our job is."
It does not take long to learn to play against the Globies. They have three positions. The Showman—Meadow or Geese—is in the hole. He plays with his back to the basket, and so to guard him you stay behind him and wave your arms a lot. The second position is cornerman—now a generic term in all basketball for forward but originally Globie terminology for their rebounder-dunker. The prototypes are Jumpin' Jackie Jackson (Jack-Jack) who, it is said, could pick a quarter off the top of a backboard and give you change, and Theodis Lee (Wolfman or Louisiana Red), who played at Houston with Elvin Hayes. You guard the cornerman by getting tangle-footed and staying clear as he cuts cleverly past for the slam dunk. Finally, there are the three floormen, or running men, who play out front on the team's three-man weave. You guard a floorman on the weave by keeping up with the flow but staying just behind your man. The hardest thing of all to do, the Opposition agrees, is to guard old Marques Haynes in his dribbling routine.
It is somehow most appropriate that Haynes has returned to play with the Globies. While Meadowlark is the star, the precise little gentleman with the trim little mustache is the spirit of the enterprise. "A great man," Branch calls him, and is done with it. Goose is dead and Inman Jackson is dead, Abe is dead and Sweetwater is pushing a hack, but Marques is back and dribbling, the same thing he has been doing since "the early "40s"—the only solid hint he ever provides to measure his timelessness.
Curly Neal, the popular shaven-head, had become the big dribbling star in Marques' absence, but, Lemon says, "Marques is the best, as old as he is, the best in the business." Neal performs a 17-second routine, carefully choreographed, every game. After 30 years Marques still ad libs every night. Once, in his prime, he dribbled a whole quarter away in Chihuahua, Mexico.
For a long time there was only one Marques in all the world, but now there are several because many of his associates have named their sons after him. Divorced, he has two daughters, one just married, the other a pretty 11-year-old named Marquetta who traveled with him last summer. Haynes still keeps a house down near his old hometown, Sand Springs, Okla., as well as an apartment in Manhattan, where he owns a new fashion house. Biella Ltd., the first major black-owned firm on Seventh Avenue. His life savings are in Biella—"I put all 30 years into this, sink or swim"—and the first line came out this fall.
Haynes is a remarkably even man, and certainly no humorist, although his business is making people laugh. The years of one-nighters seem to have made his life a gently flowing river rather than the jagged rapids that experience usually imposes. He adapts so easily. Here he is, talking about the great old Globetrotter teams playing and beating the College All-Stars year in and year out in the '50s: "And these were all great players. Paul Arizin out of Villanova, Mark Workman out of West Virginia, Kevin O'Shea out of Notre Dame...." Moments later he is talking of Biella: "And we're in all the finest stores. Strawbridge & Clothier out of Philadelphia, J.L. Hudson out of Detroit, G. Fox out of Hartford...."
Marques moves out of the locker room now. The Kalbris, on the floor, are getting into their act. Ashley and Flann come off, breathing hard from another close Ping-Pong game; they keep them close. Haynes greets them. "Hello, Bob. Hello, Darryl." He is an inveterate greeter, but while he may greet the same person dozens of times a day, he makes each encounter sound special. Bob nods and smiles back. Darryl says, "Hello, Mr. Haynes."
In the locker room there is a cackle from Geese; the first-place bid-whist team of Ausbie and Lemon has won another. In the hall, Leonardo is practicing his hat-twirling routine. Vino Venito and Nate Branch bounce a basketball back and forth. Two of the Opposition squat up against the wall, poring over paperbacks. Marquetta Haynes and Joy Mason chat. Joe Celentano, the referee, pushes the baby of the promoter around in a stroller, cooing to it while he smokes a cigarette.
Marques wanders through the diverse scene, nodding and saying hello. "Hello, jugglers," he says to the Trio Biarco, and they stop warming up to respond in a patois of Spanish and English. Haynes asks the girl in the trio if her upset stomach is better, and she assures him it is. "I'll tell you what," he says. "Take a shot of blackberry brandy—two shots if you're a drinker." He winks, she smiles. "I have Haynes remedies without medicine for everything," he explains. Going back the other way, he says hello to Joe Celentano, Larry Sample and Jim Boyle of the Opposition, and Luigi, the truck driver: "Hello, Joe; hey, there, Larry; hey, Jim; hi, Luigi." Meadow and Geese are calling him and his partner. Wolfman, for a quick hand of bid whist before they have to go on....
"...il magnifico, il fabioso, il stupendo—Harlem Globetrotters!!!!"
Dribbling, Marques leads them out in those gloriously cluttered uniforms: red, white and blue and yellow, stars all over, horizontal stripes and vertical stripes, letters and numbers—everything but STP stickers. The search for laughs begins with the introduction and the Sweet Georgia Brown circle and will last clear until Meadowlark takes his half-court hook shot and then hustles into the pivot to work off the last weave, finally scrambling onto the cornerman's shoulders for the dunk at the buzzer.
Each game, or show, is almost a duplication of every other, and the fans are so conditioned by now that even their reaction hardly varies. The early minutes of each quarter are reserved by tradition to pretty straight basketball. The reems do not begin until there are about six minutes left in a period. If there is no scoreboard clock, as is often the case in Europe, Tom Brennan, at the scorer's table, lets the Globies know how much time is remaining with cues based on playing cards. "A trey," shouted by Brennan means, for example, that three minutes are left.
The Globies need few signals. A few specific reems have titles: Connie C, Clean-Up, Raise 'em Up and the like. Mostly, however, it is just vernacular exhortations. "Let's sell something" means it is time to be funny. "You're on your own" comes from Brennan and means that the clock has run out, so it is time to work into the reem always used to end that quarter. "Let's get outta here" from Lemon indicates the same thing.
He makes his bizarre stiff-armed hook shot from half-court a remarkably high percentage of the time (earning, by the by, a $100 bonus every time he does), and when he clicks there is a sudden sense of urgency on the floor because the feat drives a crowd berserk—it is obvious that most fans think he makes it every night, just as The Great Leonardo gets all his plates spinning every night—and then all the Globies are shouting, "Let's get outta here," so they can get the final dunk in while the fans are still up and screaming from the hook shot.
Oh, that is electric. It is like seeing Marlene Dietrich singing Falling In Love Again. Then, right afterward, in conclusion, the Globetrotters walk around the court, their arms held high above their heads, responding to the cheers like emperors.
New pieces of business are added all the time—Ausbie is trying out a boxing reem now—but few stay the course. The familiar routines are too popular. Pair of treys, you got a pair of treys. The trick shots always draw surprisingly good reactions, too, and while it is something of a letdown if Meadowlark misses his last-minute hook—and he will give it one more try if he fails the first time—he manages to hit enough of them to keep it as the climax of the whole show. Pair of deuces, pair of deuces left. The Globies swear that Lemon has an uncanny ability to hit the shot when they need it the most, on a night when little else has gone well. Lemon has almost total recall of his hook-shot results. He might say, for instance. "I've never missed before in Verona," or "I haven't hit one in Evansville in six years." Deuce-and-a-half Sell something.
The best run he ever had was 8 for 15, but last summer in Italy he hit back to back, and although his first try bounced off the rim at the next game, he banked his second shot in—three games in a row. You got an ace. An ace. The next night Lemon was going for four games straight, something he had never done before, so when he set at half-court and got the ball from Geese even the Globies on the bench stopped debating about whether the good-looking dark-complected girl in the balcony was a rock or a gypsy. You're on your own now. You're on your own.
Meadowlark let it fly. It hit the backboard and zipped right through. "Bingo!" Geese cried, and the house came to its feet, roaring. Even the Globies had to shake their heads: four out of five, four games in a row. Get out of it now, get out of it. The people kept on cheering as the Opposition went down, made an unmolested basket and Geese brought the ball back up the floor. Meadowlark scurried up onto Wolfie's shoulders. The people were calling, cheering, stamping. Let's get outta here, let's get outta here. Meadowlark took the pass from Geese and slammed it through the cords. The Globies had victory number 11,139 lifetime, against 323 losses.
Well, nobody likes a loser.