The Harlem Globetrotters’ “Buckets” Blakes
Ambassadors of Basketball and Goodwill Celebrating 90 Years
The Harlem Globetrotters are celebrating nine decades of combining basketball with family-friendly comedy and theatrics. Over the years, the team has performed in over 26,000 exhibition games in 122 countries, with around 450 live events every year. Wilt Chamberlain was a Globetrotter before joining the National Basketball Association (NBA), where he became a legend. In the 1970s, not only were Globetrotters like Meadowlark Lemon and Fred “Curly” Neal household names, but they also made guest appearances on TV shows and cartoons, as well as having their own Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon program. In 2013, three Globetrotters, including guard Anthony “Buckets” Blakes, made history by performing in an exhibition game in North Korea in front of the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Jong-un, and retired NBA all-star Dennis Rodman. Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie talked with “Buckets” about the history of the team, their community outreach and traveling the world for basketball.
TJ: Can you tell me a little bit of the history of the Harlem Globetrotters?
BLAKES: We’ve been around since 1926. We are originally from Chicago — the name Harlem derived from the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem was the epicenter of African-American culture in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, so Abe Saperstein [former Globetrotters owner] wanted everyone to know that they were an all-African-American team. We actually defeated the all-white Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 for the world championship in ’49, and that led to one of the first African Americans to sign an NBA contract.
TJ: I understand that you do a lot of work off the court in addition to your playing.
BLAKES: We have several community out-reach programs. Our biggest push that we’ve been doing here in the U.S. is ABC [Action, Bravery and Compassion], the bullying-prevention program. We present that to close to 400 schools per season. One to two weeks in advance of our games, players like myself will jump off tour and go visit schools and hospitals. So we have ABC, and we have a program called C.H.E.E.R. [Cooperation, Healthy mind and body, Effort, Enthusiasm and Responsibility] for Character. Also, we have our Smile Patrol, which is my favorite. That’s our hospital visits, mainly pediatric. Our whole goal is to get big smiles out of kids in hospitals. Last, we have our S.P.I.N. program [Some Playtime Is Necessary], and that encourages kids to stay physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.
TJ: Is it true that you set a world record?
BLAKES: Yes, I’m in the Guinness Book of World Records for my underhanded half-court shot. The record was five in one minute and I sent six of them in 46 seconds.
TJ: What is your favorite part of being a Globetrotter?
BLAKES: Getting to see the world. I’ve been to 79 countries since I’ve been on the team. I think getting the chance to travel all over the world and then coming back to the U.S., which is such a melting pot of different cultures, helps me relate to pretty much anyone.
TJ: Have you ever been to Japan?
BLAKES: Yes, I went to Hase. I actually went there on my own just to see the culture and get a better feel. I have a samurai sword hanging in my office at home. I got it from a cultural festival that was going on in San Diego, California before I ever went to Japan. When I got to Japan, I wanted to go to the ninja village and see them going around on the rickshaws — just to see people living with no running water, no electricity. It was amazing to me.
TJ: What was the experience of going to North Korea like?
BLAKES: It was very interesting. I like to see things for myself and form my own personal opinions. I let people speak for themselves when I’m in their country. Globetrotters have actually changed the minds and hearts of different countries since the ‘50s — that’s what I was there for. I think we did that, and I think [Kim Jong-un] knew about the Harlem Globetrotters and what we were all about. I really felt that we made a positive impact on him.
TJ: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a Globetrotter in the future?
BLAKES: When they start playing basketball, work on the things that come naturally to them. Every player has a different personality: they’re different physically and they’re different mentally. If you keep working hard — not only to be a great player but to be the best person you can possibly be, the Globetrotters will find you, and then your uniqueness will shine through. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.