Last week I photographed the Harlem Globetrotters at SIU Arena, which reminded me that it is my one-year anniversary on staff here at The Southern Illinoisan. In 2015 the Globetrotters' appearance at SIU Arena was my first assignment for The Southern. If my memory serves me, I believe the Globetrotters won that game, however last year they were still playing The Generals. Their hapless opponent now is the International All Stars, who also lost despite every attempt by their coach to derail the Globetrotters from victory during their 90th anniversary tour.
While photographing the Globetrotters, one of the officials at the arena said to me that he could tell I was enjoying myself because I was grinning the whole time I was working. Well, it is hard not to smile watching the Globetrotters perform.
Afterward, I was thinking about what it is that has made the Globetrotters such continuous crowd-pleasers of both young and old for 90 years. I remember my father taking my siblings and me to see the Globetrotters perform at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis in the 1970s. That was when Globetrotter legends Meadowlark Lemon (who died this past December at 83) and Fred “Curly” Neal ruled the court. I still remember their antics and basketball acumen. After seeing the Globetrotters, I practiced trying to spin a ball on my fingers and also tried to duplicate Curly’s ball handling skills. Despite hours of practice, I never could come close to the Globetrotters' performance.
Seeing the Globetrotters the past two years, I notice that many of their bits are much the same as when I was a kid. There have been updates, but for the most part, the show follows a predictable pattern. So, year in and year out, how is it that this predictable performance is so entertaining? Watching these Globetrotters do old standards, such as chasing someone around with a bucket full of “water” and then threatening to douse a large part of the crowd, and it turning out to be confetti, I realized that it is the execution of the act that makes it work.
The Globetrotter team members, and even their opponents who are destined to lose, perform without irony. Their performance is sincere and full of fun and joy. They are all in on putting on a show that combines comedy and athletic performance. It is refreshing in this day and age when entertainment is ruled by satire and irony that there is still family entertainment like the Globetrotters that champions good old-fashioned silliness and high jinks, and where the good guys always win.
As someone who grew up in Indiana playing basketball every minute possible and who also enjoys comedy, the Globetrotters will always bring a smile to my face.