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April 03, 2013

The Harlem Globetrotters Miss Some Shots

There was a time when the Harlem Globetrotters held court with skill, humor, and grace. They palmed a bucket of confetti in one hand and a never-ending dribble with the other—the respective arenas roared with awe. As if that wasn't enough, they spent their personal time wrapped in spaghetti and Justice League hand-me-downs, treating criminals like so many Washington Generals and cracking wise the laugh track way. The Harlem Globetrotters were bringing the wow, and I had the world's coolest wristbands to prove it.

A few months ago I was scheduled to read to my youngest son's first grade class. I was a little nervous about it as I had picked a book that ends in tears (mine), and I am nothing if not an ugly crier. My appearance was to be a surprise, and I went so far as to shave and shower.

When I arrived at the school my services were no longer required. There had been a conflict of scheduling, and rather than my reading to one class of first graders the entire school was now giving ear to the anti-bullying PSA of a very special guest, one of the Harlem Globetrotters.

I was okay with that.

The message was everything one could want in an anti-bullying message—skill, humor, and grace. The Harlem Globetrotters were still bringing the wow, and now it had a message I could believe in.

I must admit, I was pretty excited when I was invited by the PR firm representing the team to take my family to a Harlem Globetrotters game at Staples Center in Los Angeles (our tickets were comped). However, between the nostalgia of my youth, the relative freshness of the anti-bullying presentation, and my lifelong quest for new wristbands, I may have set the expectations too high.

Staples Center was nearly sold-out. It was full of families, celebrities, and celebrities with their families. There was an opening act, a master of ceremonies, and very expensive popcorn. The room was ripe for entertainment.

And it was just ripe.

The show started with an opening act featuring very skilled dancers that danced about twenty minutes longer than the audience full of children could handle. Then there was the hype about championships, trophies, and facets of the game that were determined via the Internet. Again with the attention span.

We were led to believe, through said carnival of hype, that we were witnessing history, which seemed highly unlikely as there were two other Harlem Globetrotter games being played that same day in different states, and one could only assume that they too had trophies on the line. But the kids bought it, and the game staggered and hiccuped its way into existence.

That is when the wristbands of my childhood slowly unraveled.

It appears that the Harlem Globetrotters act is not nearly as polished as it once was. Their game has lost its infectious circus mentality and is no longer about impossible trick shots, but rather a series of catchphrases, keywords, and raw attempts at humor running down the clock between a bunch of missed baskets.

The anti-bullying message that had seemed so sincere when delivered to a sea of schoolkids suddenly went out the window when playing to a packed house. The comedic stylings of the Globetrotters focused on such topics as weight, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality—pining for punchlines and curating crudeness. Humor was in scarce supply.

The kids laughed at every fart and the adults caught gazes like t-shirts from a cannon—each look a new layer of what the hell is going on here?

I kept waiting for some semblance of the class and quality that I so fondly remembered to make an appearance, but all that showed up was a string of disappointment tied in the knots of bully humor and fart jokes. It felt like they just weren't trying, and even Sweet Georgia Brown left a taste somewhat bitter.

To be clear, my children had a fantastic time, and that is the point of such outings; however, as a parent I could not have been more disappointed in the fact that the Globetrotters mystic and magic had been sold to the lowest common denominator—bathroom humor and desperate attempts to be relevant to an audience they don't understand.

Or maybe they have us all figured out.

My boys were thrilled. We bought a Globetrotters basketball and they took turns dribbling it off their feet while walking dangerously close to traffic. The entire ride home was filled with animated accounts of their favorite moments, all told through a lens much more innocent than mine. Where I (and most of the adults that I spoke with) had lost one more petal from a rose-colored childhood, the boys were tinting theirs in fresh shades of wow and laughter.

And they had the world's coolest wristbands to prove it.




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