By Ken Bradbury
I was the shortest guy in the room. I mean I wasn’t even in the running. The Harlem Globetrotters had checked into the hotel where I was staying and apparently it was “stay day” for them as they were performing somewhere in the Peoria area that night. I’d seen their equipment truck pull into the hotel’s parking lot earlier that evening, so I went into ultra-nosey mode and kept looking out my window for the team to arrive. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later the star-spangled “Harlem Globetrotters!” bus pulled up to the front door. Of course I didn’t want the Globies to check in without company, so I hurried down to the lobby to take a peek at these magicians of the basketball court.
I’ll admit that I’d lost track of who’s who among the famous clown princes since Meadowlark Lemon was their star player, and since he’d died in December I assumed he’d not be in the lobby. The scene at the check-in desk reminded me of a day many years ago when I was staying in a Champaign, Illinois, hotel with my Triopia actors and I spied Jacksonville basketball star Andy Kaufman in the lobby. He recognized me and asked me to meet some of the members of the Fighting Illini team who were playing video games in an adjoining arcade room. The room was pitch black darkness to better highlight the flashing lights of the games, so as Andy led me from player to player I felt like hobbit Frodo walking into the tree-like land of the Ents. All I saw were faraway eyes staring down at me from the heavens. Sadly, I knew less about the Illini team than I did the Globetrotters, but they seemed like nice kids.
The Globetrotters were easier to identify as most wore logos on their jackets and their talk was much livelier than Andy’s Illini friends. In fact, they more resembled a fourth-grade P.E. class than a professional basketball team. I don’t know how long they’d traveled that day but they still had plenty of energy when they hopped off their bus. Each of them seemed to have some sort of juice bottle and each were supremely juiced with something as they explored the hotel lobby like little kids at Mark Twain’s Cave.
I so badly wanted them to be assigned to my floor of the hotel, but alas, such was not our fate, so I spent the evening finding excuses to use the vending machine on their floor. It was one of those dull hotel evenings where nothing else was happening, so I yearned for a chance to hang with the Globetrotters. As luck would have it, the weather was lousy, so the guys seldom strayed outside their rooms except for a 7 p.m. load up to go eat dinner. Like an anxious mother, I sat in the lobby and waited for them to return.
They weren’t at all snobbish, but the geography of the hotel and the timing of their schedule was making it more and more difficult to grab a conversation with one them. When they returned from their meal I managed to hop into the same elevator with three of the athletes and our infuriatingly short trip to the third floor allowed time for me to ask them where they were playing tomorrow . . . “Uh. . . I’m not sure. Somewhere here in town.” . . . Where they’d just come from . . . “St. Louis. Wasn’t’ it? Hey man, were we in St. Louis?” “That’s where I was. I got no idea where you were.” . . Much laughter . . . and a final word from me, “I’ve watched you guys all my life. You’re great.” . . . It’s astounding how stupid I can sound when in the presence of greatness, and I’m sure that the Globetrotters who got off on the third floor that night wondered how this guy twice their age could have watched them all his life.
So I thought: I have one more chance to hobnob with the pros the next morning at breakfast. I hung around the lobby for about an hour in hopes of catching them on their way to bagels and eggs. And this all led me to one important discovery: Globetrotters don’t eat breakfast . . . at least not when I’m around. ‘Twas a pity since I wanted one more glimpse of these remarkable entertainers.
I guess the Harlem Globetrotters have lost some of their luster over the years, and perhaps little boys don’t get the same thrill watching them do their warm-up drill to the strains of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” but for one night they lightened the heart of this child of the fifties. Before I checked out of my hotel room I wadded up my USA Today newspaper and attempted a hook shot at the wastebasket. I missed. Keep up the good work, Globies.