Locals learn legends of the Globetrotters!

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 10, 2003

Did you know that when the Harlem Globetrotters were formed in 1926, they were called the &uot;Savoy Big Five,&uot; and what that name means? Were you aware that basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, perhaps the most dominant player that professional basketball has ever seen, spent a season with the Globetrotters in 1958 and called it one of the most enjoyable times of his life? How about the most stunning fact of all; the group that hundreds of millions of people know as a team from a New York neighborhood was actually founded half a country away?

Hundred of local fans learned this and more about the Globetrotters at &uot;Globetrotter University,&uot; a meet-and-greet event held Sunday afternoon at the Old Dominion University Convocation Center. Herbert &uot;Flight Time&uot; Lang, in his fourth year of playing guard for the team, and Kris &uot;Hi-Lite&uot; Bruton, a second-year center, gave fans a history lesson before their narrow 81-42 victory over the New York Nationals.

&uot;Can anybody tell me where the Harlem Globetrotters were formed?&uot; Lang asked the crowd. After enduring several shouts of &uot;Well, duh, Harlem!&uot; he gave listeners a surprising answer.

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&uot;Actually, the team was formed in Chicago in 1926 by a little guy named Abe Saper-stein. He saw all these great American basketball players, and wanted to make them famous. He called the team the ‘Savoy Big Five,’ after Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom.&uot;

The next year, the team started to tour, Lang continued. But as they moved away from the Windy City, the name lost its meaning. So, a moniker switch was in order.

&uot;The name was changed to Harlem Globetrotters because Harlem was then a pre-dominantly African-American neig-hborhood,&uot; Bruton said. &uot;Plus, at that point, it was in the news, because the Harlem Renaiss-ance was going on.&uot; The Renaissance was a cultural and artistic rebirth and development of the modern arts, which brought national attention to the small town.

Over the years, many other cagers helped the team win the globe’s heart. Besides Cham-berlin, there was the legendary Robert &uot;Showboat&uot; Hall, who played in over 5,000 games for the team from 1947 to 1974. Marques Haynes, known as the greatest dribbler in the sport during his time, did two stints with the Globetrotters over four decades, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. Geese Ausbie was the team’s Clown Prince from 1961 to 1985.

But the greatest of them all, the name that is synonymous not just with the Globetrotters, but with basketball itself, was Meadowlark Lemon.

A native of Wilmington, NC, Lemon played over 7,500 consecutive games for the Globe-trotters, showing his skills in front of popes, kings, queens and presidents in more than 94 countries around the world and in more than 1,500 North American cities. Lemon had his number retired by the team in 2001 (he, Chamberlain, Haynes and Reece Tatum are the only members to receive that honor). The year before, he had been voted into the Hall of Fame.

On January 12, 1998, the Globetrotters played its 20,000 game, the only team in the history of professional sports to reach the milestone. Last Sept. 27, they became only the fifth team (and the first in 40 years) to be named to the Hall of Fame.

After the history lesson, Lang and Bruton brought four youngsters on the court to teach them the basics of the &uot;Magic Circle,&uot; the famous drill in which the Trotters show off a set of passing skills that the NBA would never allow. One child learned to head-butt the ball, another to kick it, and to throw an elbow, and the fourth the infamous &uot;over-the-back&uot; toss.

After the demonstration, Lang, who made the Dean’s List twice during his years at Louisiana’s Centenary College, told his listeners about the importance of the school building.

&uot;Who here knows who Shaquille O’Neal is?&uot; he asked. Nearly every hand went up.

&uot;How about Michael Jor-dan?&uot; The remaining hands shot skyward.

&uot;Both of those guys went to play pro ball before they finished college,&uot; he said, &uot;but they both went back and got their degrees. Now, who here knows who Nicky Finn was?&uot; Rather than a show of hands, all he got was looks of uncertainty.

&uot;You don’t know who Nicky Finn was because he never finished school or ever did anything!&uot; he said, completing the joke. &uot;Stay in school, get an education, and then you’ll go places.&uot;