WILDWOOD, NJ--They set up shop when Calvin Coolidge was president, before television, during prohibition. Now with Barack Obama in the White House, a society obsessed with social media, and ads for beer everywhere you look, they continue to thrive. The times have changed again and again but there is at least one constant in the world of sports. Since the late 1920s, the Harlem Globetrotters have been putting smiles on the faces of children and adults all over the world. They continue to do the same...and that's a good thing.
During their stop at the Jersey Shore this month I took in a Globetrotters game for the first time in years. The cast of characters is all new but their modus operandi is delightfully the same: the slam dunking, fancy passing--the clowns of basketball are as hilarious as ever on the court and benevolent beyond belief off of the hardwood.
The game I attended featured the usual Globetrotter antics: players dancing on the backboard, interaction with the adoring crowd, relentless harassment of the referee, and, of course, constant needling of the opponent. Pants were pulled down, water was thrown, and the basketball was even replaced by a beach ball at one point. Scoreboard chicanery, trick shots, and the lovable mascot Globie all made for a great night of family fun.
Just like the Harlem players of the past, these 'Trotters also do their part in the community. The charity work of the team is second to none. Spending time with sick kids and lending a hand to those in need is all in a day's work for these madcap ballers. Whether it's Izaiah Williams, a little boy from Ames, Iowa, who's awaiting a kidney and liver transplant, or the countless kids unable to attend games due to illness, the Globetrotters make sure they touch the lives of as many people as possible. Izaiah got to spend days with the team and sit on the bench during games. Other children get a visit from players right in their hospital room.
"That's what it's all about," "Cheese" Chisholm told Breitbart Sports as he flipped his game worn wristband to a very happy six year old. "Getting a chance to give back and make people smile is the best part of this job. I get paid to go to great places like Italy and Israel and make kids laugh. I'm so blessed." Chisholm, who played his college ball at Ball State also regularly reads to children at libraries across the world. A student of the game, he appreciates every moment in the iconic red, white, blue, and gold uniform. "Wilt Chamberlain played for this team," Chisholm beamed. "It's a wonderful life to live."
This edition of the Globetrotters is not a boys-only club. "TNT" Maddox is on the roster and she certainly deserves to be. This superb dribbler out of Temple University is easy on the eyes and rough on defenders. She wows the crowd every time she steps on the floor. "I really like to inspire girls and show them they can do anything," said Maddox. "To walk off the court after a game knowing you made people happy is really a gift." Maddox, a devout Christian points to working with a therapy horse as one of her favorite Globetrotter moments thus far. "Kids really responded to it," she said. "I am honored to be the ninth woman Globetrotter."
Even though the team trots the entire globe, "TNT" and "Cheese" both enjoy the United States the most. That's fitting because the Globetrotters are uniquely American. Where else could a group of sharpshooting funny men (and women) be featured on Scooby-Doo and a slew of other shows and movies? What other teams have a former Secretary of State, a pope, and entertainers as honorary members? Only in America.
The impact of the Harlem Globetrotters is worldwide and tangible. The team has spent time in Soviet Russia and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Using laughter and athletic ability they've busted through political discourse to simply make others feel good.
Kevin Grow, the basketball player with Down Syndrome who I wrote multiple columns about has a special place at the Globetrotter feel good table. The team actually signed Grow after he finished high school this year and he played in some games with them. No longer on the roster, Grow still gets the star treatment when the Globetrotters come to town. In Wildwood he sat with the players on the bench in uniform, spent time in the locker room, danced with the team, and threw the ceremonial jump ball. A great young man having the time of his life, this is what the Globetrotters are all about.
My grandparents took me to see the Globetrotters multiple times as a kid. I also remember going with some friends in middle school for a birthday party and checking them out once more as a young adult. Seeing them this time brought back those wonderful memories and created some more.
While this current crop of hoopsters may not have the name recognition like the "Meadowlark" Lemons and "Curley" Neals of the past, don't think these players don't have a following. "Big Easy" Loften seemed surprised and quite humbled when one fan shouted her admiration for him, not as a basketball player, but as a contestant on The Amazing Race. "Wow, you rooted for me on there?" Loften asked. "People are so nice and supportive," he told Breitbart Sports.
Just like the legendary Globetrotters of years past who infiltrated pop culture, this crop of round-ball wizards have made their mark as well. The biggest impact they are making, however, can be seen on the faces of children--and children at heart--who smile ear-to-ear while marveling at their basketball and comedic prowess.
The Harlem Globetrotters have been amazingly positive difference makers for decades and it seems as though they are just hitting their stride. The names may have changed, but when "Sweet Georgia Brown" plays and that red, white, and blue ball starts to be smoothly passed from smiling player to smiling player, that feeling of good will is as strong as ever.