Globetrotters Evolve From Caricatures To Showmen

Is there a greater joy than the sound of a child’s laughter?

Friends give me two tickets courtside to the Harlem Globetrotters. And here we are. And my little boy can’t stop laughing. In heaven, there’s a 24-hour XM radio channel of children laughing. I’m sure of it.

In one bit, the Globetrotters line up as a five-man football team, “Clown Prince of Basketball” Nate “Big Easy” Lofton crouches under center to take the snap … and, well, there’s a fart noise. And now my boy is apoplectic with laughter. He’s holding his belly. Yep, when you’re a little boy, the comedy genre of “fart noise” just never gets old.

I’ve seen the Harlem Globetrotters only once before: 1965. I was 8. I laughed, like my son is laughing now. But I also was transfixed. Astonished at the artistry. The athleticism.

Forty-four years later, some of the bits remain a constant. There’s the confetti-filled water bucket spilled on a fan. The rubber band basketball. Supernatural demonstrations of dribbling and ball handling. The three-man weave offense that any serious seventh-grade basketball team could easily defend, but that has bamboozled and perplexed the Washington Generals (the Globetrotters’ stooge opponent) for decades.

The Globetrotters fill children with joy. Uncensored joy. And if this fills the players with half as much joy, then being a Globetrotter is a beautiful thing to do with your life.

Special this night is a halftime tribute to former Globetrotter and former University of Nevada, Las Vegas forward Chris Richardson, who, while traveling with the team in Japan last December, died inexplicably in his sleep. It’s no mean feat of professionalism to watch master comedians stop their art on a dime … and grieve … and then honor Chris’ life, laughter, and great big smile by stepping right back onstage without missing a beat.

The Globetrotters were the brainchild of Abe Saperstein (1902-1966), and it doesn’t get any more unlikely than this. A 5-foot-3-inch Jew, born in England, who conceives, casts and expertly promotes the uniquely American game of basketball as a stage for comedy and athletic exhibition.

The original ’Trotters debuted in 1927 as The Savoy Five. They were from Chicago, yet marketed as from Harlem. The name “Globetrotters” sold the illusion of successful, world-traveled entertainers, which, of course, they later became.

I’m a native Arizonan and a once serious basketball player. As such, an avid fan of the NBA Phoenix Suns. Which means I know the story of Connie Hawkins, who spent four years playing for the Globetrotters before his NBA career began.

But, in his 1972 biography “Foul,” Hawkins is critical of Saperstein and the Globetrotters. He devotes an entire chapter, titled “Tomming For Abe,” a reference to the anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852). Hawkins remembers the ’Trotters were rehearsed to act “like Uncle Toms … Grinnin’ and smilin’ and dancin’ around, and that’s the way a lot of white people like to think we really are.”

Hawkins wondered if the only way white audiences could tolerate the superiority of blacks in basketball was to play up silly caricatures of black people.

When I read Hawkins’ book in the ’70s, I remember being disappointed by Connie’s remarks — not because I possessed an educated rebuttal, but merely because I was young and inconvenienced by my hero’s insistence on discussing race.

But, tonight, as I watch the 2009 ’Trotters, my mind floats back to 1965 and the ’Trotters of Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. Constantly chattering in shrill, affected voices. Flamboyant body language and wide-eyed facial expressions. Funny as hell. But, now, after all these years, I get it …

Connie was right. I’m just saying. On the court, Meadowlark and Curly were black caricatures. Vaudeville black. No more caricatures, mind you, than Jeff Foxworthy is a caricature of a white Southern man, or Fred Rogers was a caricature of esteem-building, parental empathy. (Come on. No way does Fred make love to his wife with a vacuous, nodding grin, saying: “You’re my special friend. Sure.”)

The 2009 ’Trotters are different. Yes, all black. But today, some of the Washington Generals are black. And, while Nate ‘Big Easy’ Lofton is an energetic, consummate showman, gone are the cartoonish black caricatures of yesteryear. Nate seems more contained. More himself. More just a quality entertainer in command of his craft.

Times they do change. It would be interesting to know if Connie Hawkins has made any greater peace with his history as a Harlem Globetrotter.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at skalas@reviewjournal.com.

ad-high_impact_4
Life
Kids become firefighters at Fire Station 98 open house
Henderson residents wore fire hats, learned about CPR and met firefighters at the Fire Station 98 open house Saturday, August 11, 2018. (Marcus Villagran Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
People from all over the world attend RollerCon 2018
RollerCon 2018 is a five-day convention focused on the roller derby community and culture at Westgate in Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Las Vegas police officer on being PETA's Sexiest Vegan Next Door
Las Vegas police officer David Anthony talks vegan lifestyle and how he feels about being voted PETA's sexiest Vegan next door from his home on Monday, July 9, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Bark-Andre Furry meets Capitals superfan Ovie the Bulldog
Two of NHL's furriest fans met at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace on Tuesday, June 18, 2018, in Las Vegas. Vegas Golden Knights superfan Bark-Andre Furry and Washington Capitals superfan Ovie the Bulldog shared a plate of meatballs and spaghetti with help from Logan, "The Girl with the Hat." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like