They’re considered basketball’s clown princes and all-star maestros of mirth.
But above all else, the Harlem Globetrotters want a little respect, the team’s first-ever player-ambassador said during a Friday visit to Spokane.
“First and foremost, we are a good basketball team,” said Kelvin “Special K” Hildreth. “People sometimes overlook our basketball skills.”
Hildreth is part of the team’s new effort to improve attendance, an experiment launched 67 years after the Globetrotters played their first game.
Until three weeks ago, he was a member of one of the Globetrotters’ two touring teams. When management looked around for a player with speaking skills and a talent for making people smile, they picked Hildreth.
Team officials now contact groups like United Way and arrange to have Hildreth make friends and build interest in the team’s visit.
“It’s an experiment, and I’m happy to do this,” said Hildreth. “Other times, I can’t wait to get back to the team. I miss the competition.”
During his Spokane stop, Hildreth had an easy job - making points with a group of 35 students at the YWCA’s Homeless School. He worked on their ball handling. More than that, he exercised their sense of humor.
His teammates have a harder job when they play the Washington Generals on Feb. 20 at the Spokane Coliseum, he said.
It’s hard, he’s found, to make people realize what the Globetrotters do is more than fun and games.
The necessary court antics sometimes obscure the team’s athletic ability - the chemistry they call “Globetrotters magic,” he explained.
His illustration of that point came two years ago. The 6-foot-8 Hildreth leaped for a rebound after a teammate missed a jump shot.
He was on the right side of the basket, with his back turned to the rim. He reached wide to his left to spear the rebound.
“I went up, stretched, grabbed the ball in midair and brought it in back over my head at an angle, dunking it without looking,” he recalled.
It was the best dunk of his career, which spanned four years of college ball at Mississippi State and eight years with the Trotters.
The crowd went wild and the opposing team called time out to regroup.
After the game, a young boy came up to him and wanted to talk. “I thought he might want to talk about the dunk. Instead, he wanted to know where to find the player who threw the water bucket,” Hildreth said.
“We are professionals and that’s what we want to be remembered for,” he continued.
Globetrotter fans can count on seeing uncanny passes, amazing long-distance shooting and the occasional bending of the rules to provoke a laugh.
“For 2-1/2 hours you’ll see things that make you laugh and forget your troubles.
“But you’ll also see things done with a basketball that you’ve never seen done before,” he said.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: TICKET INFORMATION The Globetrotters will perform at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Spokane Coliseum. Tickets are available from G&B; outlets or by calling 325-SEAT (credit cards only). Reserved seats are $18, $13 and $10; $13, $11 and $8 for seniors and children 12 and under.