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.

Life
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Army medic’s Afghanistan story told in new book
The graphic novel “Machete Squad” is based on journals written by Las Vegan Brent Dulak.
Las Vegas man talks about losing his wife
Dwayne Murray, 37, lost his wife, LaQuinta while she was at Centennial Hills Hospital. A jury awarded him $43 million last week after it said the hospital failed to perform the standard of care in administering a drug for her sickle cell disease.
Barber sets up shop in grandfather’s old shop
Andres Dominguez’s new barber shop is filled with memories of his grandfather, who ran the El Cortez landmark for more than 30 years. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Life and times of a 90-year-old horse player
Leo Polito of Las Vegas describes meeting legendary jockey and trainer Johnny Longden on the beach at Del Mar. Mike Brunker/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Learning the history of singing bowls
Presentation at Summerlin Library teaches residents about the history of singing bowls (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learning live-saving techniques in Stop the Bleed class
Leslie Shaffer, an AMR paramedic, shows how to control bleeding during a Stop the Bleed course at the Summerlin Library. The class is designed to teach anyone how to control and stop life-threatening bleeding. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vicki Richardson speaks about on the power of art
Artist and arts advocate Vicki Richardson talks about the power of art to inspire and challenge. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DressCoders pairs tech with haute couture
DressCoders is a startup focused on haute couture garments. The company uses illuminated thread that is washable and can be sewn right into the fabric. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Brava infrared oven
In cooking with the Brava infrared oven,there’s no preheating. the bulbs can reach 500 degrees in less than a second. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sinks Merge Style And Utility
Study could determine cause of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases
Dr. Aaron Ritter, director of clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, discusses his research on how inflammation in the brain impacts Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holocaust survivors talk about tragedy and friendship
Janos Strauss and Alexander Kuechel share their perspectives on life. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Siegel Cares' Santa delivers toys to kids at Siegel Suites in Las Vegas
Siegel Cares, the charitable wing of The Siegel Group, delivered toys to families at their apartment complexes in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Revisiting “Christ the King” sculpture
A longtime admirer of the sculpture at Christ the King Catholic Community in Las Vegas shares her perspective. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terry Fator Christmas House
Arguably better than a hotel holiday display, is Terry and Angie Fator's home located in southwest Las Vegas.
UNLV Winter Graduation Packs Thomas & Mack
UNLV's 55th winter commencement ceremony included approximately 2,146 undergraduate and graduate students who recently completed their studies. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Build-A-Bear comes to Reed Elementary School
Students participated in a Build-A-Bear-Workshop at Doris Reed Elementary School in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the LVRJ
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center art depicts names of God
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center founder Sharaf Haseebullah talks about new diamond-shaped art panels featuring some of the 99 names of Allah at the main entrance the Las Vegas mosque. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Catholic Charities hosts early Christmas meal
Students from the Bishop Gorman High School football and cheerleader team helped to serve food at the Christmas meal sponsored by the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada on Sunday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Incarcerated Christmas
This is the fourth year HOPE for Prisoners has worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to create a Christmas for prisoners to visit their families. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018 Homeless Vigil
Straight From The Streets holds its 23rd annual vigil to remember the 179 homeless individuals who died in Clark County this year.
Getting through the Holiday blues
Psychologist Whitney Owens offers advice on keeping your mental health in check during the Holiday season in Henderson, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like