Harlem Globetrotters bring basketball, positive message to Bay Area
on January 14, 2011
The famed Harlem Globetrotters are rolling through Oakland for two games this weekend and will bring all of their trademark basketball skills and antics with them, as well as their distinctive messages of fun, kindness, and inclusion.
Officially known as the “Ambassadors of Goodwill,” the team, as identifiable by their play on the court as by their whistling theme song—Brother Bone’s rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown”—travels the globe playing basketball in the hopes of providing a sense of togetherness while encouraging community members to get involved in charity.
But don’t be fooled, the Globetrotters are not just like every other basketball team. Sure, they play to win in each of their games—usually playing their rival, the Washington Generals—but do so with high jinks including trick shots, gags on refs and opponents, and a level of crowd involvement that is unmatched anywhere else. They also make stops along the way at local schools and community centers in the hopes of spreading their message.
According to their website, the Globetrotters have visited 120 countries and territories on six continents, entertaining more than 132 millions fans, including heads of state worldwide and even the late Pope John Paul II, with the simple idea of spreading good cheer.
“We’ve broken down many social barriers,” said Aundre “Hot Shot” Branch, an eight-year member of the team. “We’ve brought many nations together that were having conflict, just by the game of basketball. Doing whatever you’ve got to do to give back and uplifting everyone’s spirit, turning them in a positive direction, we go all over the world doing that.”
Branch notes that it was a childhood dream for him to become a Globetrotter; he joined the team after playing at Baylor University and a stint playing professionally in Europe. Now one of the elder statesmen of the group at age 37, he’s known not just for his hallmark shooting ability, but also as a leader responsible for schooling the younger players on what it means to be a Harlem Globetrotter.
“My job is to go out and show what the Globetrotters do,” said Branch. “The fun, the smiling, the interactions with the fans, the great character and things like that, and I love doing that. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s a small one, because once you have it in your heart and you appreciate the position you’re in, it’s second nature.”
But that’s not all the Globetrotters are known for. They are recognized as one of the chief innovators of the modern game of basketball thanks to having introduced moves like the alley-oop dunk and the behind-the-back pass. The once all-black team is also credited with helping break the NBA’s color line in 1950, by paving the way for the first black players to join basketball’s premier professional association; people of color had previously not been allowed to play in the professional leagues. In fact, the team was actually originally formed in Chicago in 1926, but chose to take on the “Harlem” moniker because of the New York neighborhood’s strong association with black culture.
Since then, the Globetrotters have gained celebrity not just in the United States, but around the world. Past members include Hall of Fame professional players Wilt Chamberlain and Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Honorary members have included the late comedian Bob Hope, TV personality Whoopi Goldberg and former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela.
For 2011, the Globetrotters have a new trick up their sleeves. Celebrating the team’s 85th anniversary, during their “4 Times the Fun” North American Tour the organization has instituted the four-point shot. That’s right, the four-point shot.
Four spots on the hardwood—each 35 feet from the basket, or 12 feet further back than the NBA three-point line—are now good for four points. For every four-point shot they make during their games, the team donates four pairs of glasses through the nonprofit organization VisionSpring, which has a mission of reducing poverty and generating opportunity in developing countries through the sale of inexpensive eyeglasses.
While on the Bay Area leg of the tour, Branch made a special visit to the Town School for Boys in San Francisco to put on an assembly for kindergarten through eighth graders about the Globetrotters’ C.H.E.E.R. initiative—an acronym meaning Cooperation, Healthy mind and body, Effort, Enthusiasm and Responsibility—which is just one of several character-driven campaigns that the team undertakes.
“Every single day you get above the ground,” said Branch to the group of youngsters, “be excited, be happy. Stay positive. Positive energy can be spread very easily. Smiling is a good thing.”
Kids jumped at the opportunity to define what each of the C.H.E.E.R. words meant, which also came with the chance to learn a few signature Globetrotter tricks from “Hot Shot” as well. It was hard for even the adults in the room to keep from flashing a few grins.
“It was great,” said Nick Cofod, director of the middle school at the Town School. “He brought messages about character and responsibility, and when someone outside comes in and speaks from a different perspective, it really reinforces what we try to do here on a day-to-day level. It’s hard to hold the attention of a group this age, but he was able to captivate them for the entire presentation.”
The Globetrotters will appear at Oakland’s Oracle Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday for a matinee appearance at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster starting at $14 each.
Branch says fans can expect an enjoyable and entertaining experience for the whole family, though it’s not uncommon to see a few buckets of water and confetti thrown, too. “I think that’s the greatest experience of all,” he said, “to know that every place I go, I’m doing something special. I’m making someone happy, and I can go home and just lay it down at night knowing that I got to help someone else.”
Lead Image: Aundre “Hot Shot” Branch, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, has fun with a couple members of the audience at the Town School for Boys in San Francisco. The boys pictured were volunteers and Branch was rewarding them with autographed team photos, though they were hard to reach. Photo by Kevin Fixler.
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