February 9, 2006

Globetrotters' Flash Losing Its Glimmer

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Part of growing up is having your childhood illusions knocked away, one by one. As a kid, it’s finding out there is no Santa Claus or Superman. At our age, it’s more painful lessons, such as the fact that after your four years of college, that window of opportunity where it’s acceptable to drink seven days a week and hook up with strangers closes. Sad, but true.

The most heartbreaking growing pain of all is leaving your childhood heroes behind. I came face-to-face with this unfortunate rite of passage on Tuesday night, when I went to watch the Harlem Globetrotters perform at Newman Arena. I guess nearly every other Cornell student already knew this wasn’t a worthwhile way to spend $20 and two hours – the friends in my group were pretty much the only college-aged faces in a crowd of Boy Scouts, school girls, moms and dads.

And even though the elementary ambiance had us questioning our decision not to pregame the basketball circus within five minutes of sitting down, I still thought everything would be okay. I was going on childhood memories of awe and adulation for the boys in red, white, and blue that could make any shot – frontwards, backwards, or sideways – run circles around their opponents, and keep me rolling on the floor with laughter while they did it.

I’m not the only one who reveres the Globetrotters in this way. This is their 80th anniversary tour, and they reached the 20,000-game milestone on Jan. 12, 1998. (Let me put this in perspective: The Chicago Cubs rank second in professional sports teams with the most games played with 17,978. After them, the Montreal Canadians at 5,584 games played. The Globetrotters are an American institution on par with McDonald’s: both boast billions served.) And the game of basketball has been irreversibly changed by the Globetrotters – a motley crew that has made a name for itself as trickster players who are part stand-up comedians, part dance team, and along the way have integrated the fast break, the dunk, the figure eight “weave” offense, and a recruiting system to scout players into the mainstream style. You can call them glorified clowns, but you can’t ignore them.

That’s not to say there wasn’t any skill on the court. One of the Globetrotters recycled a T-Mac move from a few All-Star games ago – throwing the ball off the backboard and finishing it with a jam. Watching another run sideline-to-sideline, periodically sliding on ginormous kneepads, spinning a few times, then leaping back to his feet – all while keeping his dribble – was pretty impressive. And even if the game seemed like more of a glorified dunk highlight reel for Kris “High Life” Bruton, that was fine by me – how often do we get to see the Ivy Leaguers throw it down on the rims of Newman?

But plain, old-fashioned, fancified basketball isn’t enough to entertain me anymore. I need superficial gimmicks – like the four Harlem Hot Boys who used a trampoline to throw down a dazzling display of dunks, capped by a finale in which the first three each did aerials, keeping the ball alive by bouncing it off the floor mid-rotation, with the last guy picking up the ball in the middle of a flip and finishing with a backboard-shaking slam. Or “Big G” – that’s Globetrotters’ mascot Globie’s big brother – the 10-foot tall blow-up doll with a human inside, showing off his dance moves. Seriously, this thing moved like one of the birds in March of the Penguins, only on steroids and playing on fast-forward. And then, every time Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” went “I get knocked down” – BOOM!!! 10-foot inflatable penguin hits the deck face-first – the ultimate on the pain-as-comedy scale. And as an encore? Big G stands on his head, bopping around to Diana Ross’ “Upside Down.”

So, besides the really funny inflatable doll, what did I get out of this experience? Not much more than frustration at the fact that I’m too old to find satisfaction in innocent, family entertainment. When I see the Globetrotters now, I can’t ignore the fact that the game is fixed, that they’re playing a 15th-tier opponent with more white guys on the bench than an Ivy League team, and that these guys aren’t even the best Globetrotters – they don’t send the same lineup to Madison Square Garden as they do to Ithaca, N.Y. It’s just a bunch of goofy guys who can do some fancy ballhandling, not nearly as heroic as I once thought them to be. I guess the brutal disillusionment just goes to prove the hardest lesson of all – life’s just not fair.

Olivia Dwyer is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Forever Wild will appear every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Olivia Dwyer