Harlem Globetrotters bring hilarious hijinks to Baltimore Arena

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There are few things in sports as easy to watch as the arc of a basketball tossed from the foul line. At times, it seems the lazy loft will hang in the air forever. Even so, you don’t expect the ball to simply float away into the rafters. Or explode when it hits the rim. But balls filled with helium and confetti were just some of the oddities area families observed on Saturday, as the Baltimore Arena hosted two performances by the Original Harlem Globetrotters.

First organized in the 1920’s, the barnstorming barons of the backboard have entertained several generations with amusing antics and amazing agility; playing exhibition games in over 120 countries around the world.

Cecil Rolle of east Baltimore brought his son and two of his son’s friends out on Saturday night to see the Globetrotters in action. Rolle, who played high school basketball in Florida, said of the action on the hardwood that the quartet was, “Loving it.”

Batimorean Cecil Rolle enjoys the game with three future stars. (Wayne C. Countryman)
Cecil Rolle enjoys the game with three future stars. (Wayne C. Countryman)

“It’s a good show. And a good experience for the boys.”

The three young boys, who ranged in ages from 4-8, told the Baltimore Post-Examiner they all enjoy playing basketball, even if the hoop is a little high. Perhaps the trio will grow up someday to dazzle cheering crowds like Globetrotters’ fan favorite Dizzy Grant.

Dizzy attended his first Harlem Globetrotters game when he was seven years old. Impressed by what he saw, the youth started playing basketball. Twenty-five years later, he is one of the Globetrotter’s most recognizable stars; inspiring a new generation with his signature, “Over the Hill and Through the Woods” move.
Along with Dizzy Grant, the current roster is comprised of about thirty players. These gifted athletes make up two or more touring teams. On Saturday, the Globetrotters fielded a squad which included forwards Slick Willie Shaw, Prince Johnson, Hacksaw Hall, and guards Flip White, Joyce “Sweet J” Ekworomadu and Ant Atkinson – a college hoops sensation and the first player to ever be “drafted” by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Hi-Lite Brutton, another Globetrotters guard, played briefly for the Chicago Bulls, before injuries abruptly ended his NBA career. Today, Hi-Lite captains a mischievous team which plays by some pretty unorthodox rules.

The rules for Saturday’s game included a series of bizarre challenges. Players had to make shots off the top of their heads; from behind their backs or with the ball spinning on one finger.

Slick Willie Shaw helps a young fan get into the spin. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Slick Willie Shaw helps a young fan get into the spin. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Other challenges included one quarter of “In or Out”, where the number of players on the floor fluctuated between 2-5 and would change whenever a basket was either hit or missed. And then there was the “Hot Hand Shooter” challenge, where points were doubled on any baskets made by one designated team member.

Bonus shots with these crazy rules could be scored – with three minutes or less to go in any quarter – from the four-point circle 35 feet away from the basket. Hot Hand lay-up shots were worth five points and, well, you get the picture. It’s hard to follow the scoring, especially when one team can stop the action for a group dance number or pull off a hidden ball trick and then reenact the illusion with a live action slow motion replay. But then, even with such shenanigans, how hard can it be to score when the opposing team is an incarnation of the Washington Generals?

For decades, the Generals played pitiable straight-men to the frantic foolishness of the Harlem Globetrotters. Over the years, the Generals lost an incredible 13,000-plus games. On the rare occasion the Generals actually came away victorious, it is said that some children in the audience actually cried. Today, the World All Stars have supplanted the Generals as the Globetrotters’ hapless foe. Not surprisingly, they have fared no better than the luckless Generals. The final score on Saturday night had the Globetrotters winning 106-93.

Slick, Sweet-J and Hacksaw enjoy a break in the action. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Slick, Sweet-J and Hacksaw take a break in the action. (Anthony C. Hayes)

The lopsided competition did not matter to Cyndi Appolin of Severna Park. Appolin, along with her husband and two teen-aged children, enjoyed watching her first Globetrotters game on Saturday night. A Christmas gift for the kids, Appolin said the young teens have been glued to YouTube for the last few days, watching videos of the Globetrotters in action.

“They’re very funny and entertaining, so my kids were looking forward to seeing them in person. My husband is a huge sports fan and my son enjoys sports, too, but my daughter is the one who really seems to have loved this game the most” said Appolin.

Basketball has long been a popular girls game, too, and the Globetrotters were in the forefront of fielding a professional co-ed team. Back in 1985, the Globetrotters signed their first female players, Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard, quickly followed by LSU Lady Tiger stand-outs Jackie White and Joyce Walker.

Joyce “Sweet J” Ekworomadu (eck-wor-oh-MAA-doo), who was the 2008 Southland Conference Player of the Year while at Texas State University, wowed the Baltimore audience on Saturday night as the Hot Hand shooter for the Globetrotter team. Ekworomadu, along with TNT Maddox and T-Time Brawner, are the team’s current female stars.

Flip makes his own kind of fun. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Flip makes his own kind of fun. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Navy wife Jan Schoenbauer told the Baltimore Post-Examiner she and her husband drove up from Annapolis to watch the game. Schoenbauer is no stranger to the sport (her father coached high school basketball in their native Minnesota), but she didn’t see the Globetrotters in person until the 1980s; catching a show while her husband was stationed in Hawaii. Schoenbauer took her sons to see that first game and was thrilled by the talents of Globetrotters’ legends Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon. Now a die-hard fan, her husband surprised her with a pair of Globetrotters tickets this Christmas.

“I remember when Sweet J joined the team. It’s always fun to see what (and who) they’ve come up with. And I think it’s nice that they give families the stage; that they allow time for the kids to get out on the floor and perform with the team. It’s the kind of silly stuff that the kids are doing anyway.”

As a longtime fan, we wondered if Schoenbauer had one particular move she liked the most?

“I love their rounds the best,” she said, but then quickly added, “I feel so sorry for those poor referees!”

Affordable fun at The Baltimore Arena will continue in the New Year with a full slate of family friendly fare. Upcoming sporting events include seven Baltimore Blast games, Arenacross (January 10-12), Monster Jam with four performances (February 28- March 2) and the CAA Men’s Basketball Championship (March 7-10).

The junior set will enjoy The Fresh Beat Band (Nickelodeon’s preschool music group) Saturday, January 18,  at 5:30 p.m. Country star Jason Aldean brings his Night Train tour into town on February 1 with guests Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr!

February 5-9, Mickey and Minnie Mouse strap on their skates for Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic. Cirque du Soleil returns to Baltimore with “Michael Jackson – The Immortal World Tour” (March 18-19). And Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus set up their tent March 26 – April 6.

Bruce Bruce and Earthquake are back with The Top Shelf Comedy Tour (February 15).
Casting Crowns returns to the Baltimore Arena with Laura Story and For King & Country (March 22).

And last but certainly not least, Justin Timberlake brings sexy back to the Baltimore Arena on July 14 for The 20/20 Experience World Tour!

Information about these shows and others may be found by visiting the Baltimore Arena online.


(Feature photo credit ~ Wayne C. Countryman)