Young basketball fans might think modern superstars like Steph Curry or Russell Westbrook are the kings of basketball highlights. But no one plays the game with more fun or style than the famous Harlem Globetrotters. For almost a century, they have been dazzling fans with alley-oop dunks, behind-the-back passes and hilarious antics.
Since 1926, the Globetrotters have been taking on all competitors, including their rivals (and perennial losers), the Washington Generals. Founded by Abe Saperstein in Chicago as a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance, the Globetrotters initially barnstormed, playing whoever was willing to take the court. After wins against all-white NBA teams like the Minneapolis Lakers (who eventually moved to Los Angeles), a former Globetrotter named Nat ‘Sweetness’ Clifton broke the NBA’s color barrier in 1950.
The team, which features four female and 26 male players, tours all over the world–they’ve visited over 120 countries and provinces. They will be playing in historic Madison Square Garden on February 19 and 20 before taking the court at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in early April. MSG isn’t just any arena; it’s a special stop for players like Zeus McClurkin.
“My older brother was my number one basketball influence in my life. He would always tell me how special it is to make to Madison Square Garden. He used to say that you’re not really a basketball player until you’ve played at MSG,” say McClurkin, who is celebrating his fourth visit to the mecca of basketball. “Once I finally played there, I thought ‘I guess I’m finally a basketball player.”
Julian ‘Zeus’ McClurkin has been playing for the Globetrotters for three years. Known for his dunking prowess–he holds the Guinness World Record for most dunks in a minute with 16–Zeus had a late start to the game.
“I didn’t make my first basketball team until I was 17. A lot of my coaches and teammates said the same thing: I was too nice… I was the type of guy who, if I fouled you, I would apologize for it.” But his positive and entertaining style of play fits perfectly with the Globetrotters.
“Immediately I saw these guys and girls represent who I am as a person… because I’m already an entertainer, I’m already someone that likes to interact with the crowd.” Zeus originally signed on to play for the Generals, but he was one of the rare players to cross over to the Globetrotters. “Eventually, [they] got so tired of me dunking on them and they signed me to a contract.”
Globetrotter games are all about entertainment; in addition to the in-game skills and athletics, the games feature extracurricular fun. This can range from a Globetrotter yanking down the shorts of one of their opponents for laughs to players dumping a bucket full of confetti on some lucky courtside fans. If your child is lucky, they might get picked out of the crowd to help the team do some basketball tricks!
The Globetrotters make memories off the court as well. The mission of the team is to be ambassadors of goodwill and fun to fans all over the world. McClurkin does this by talking to kids at their schools about bullying. The Globetrotters partnered with the National Campaign to Stop Violence to create the ABCs of Bullying prevention.
“I go in, I tell the kids how they can take action, how they can be brave, and also how they can have compassion for students who have been bullied and people who are bullies themselves.” The Globetrotters will also often visit children’s hospitals and try to help some of the patients feel a little better.
At the games, your kids aren’t the only ones who will have a blast. McClurkin sees fans of all ages having the time of their life. “It’s not just the kids; we’ll see somebody that’s 20, somebody that’s 30, somebody that’s 70 years old! Everybody has a huge smile on their face. The show is friendly enough for kids but I find that everybody really enjoys it. I feed off the energy of the crowd so the more I see [fans] enjoying it, the more I will too.”
To learn more about the Globetrotters and purchase tickets, visit their web site at harlemglobetrotters.com