The National Basketball Association has drawn its share of players from the ranks of the Harlem Globetrotters - now it’s starting to give them back.
Darryl Dawkins, one-time clown prince, dunkmeister and backboardblaster for the Philadelphia ‘76ers, is a showman-in-training for the revitalized Globetrotter organization, and he’s heading for Spokane.
“He’s the first one to shatter a backboard in the NBA,” said his new teammate and ‘Trotter spokesman Kelvin “Special K” Hildreth.
Dawkins was one of the NBA’s true originals until his career wound down in 1990. He liked to say he was Chocolate Thunder, an ambassador from the Planet Lovetron.
A flamboyant player, Dawkins loved to dunk the ball. He named his better efforts - The Rim Wrecker, The Go-Rilla, The Look Out Below.
But he saved the best name for his most famous slam, his shattering 1979 slammer over Bill Robinzine in Kansas City. It became The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, GlassBreaker, I-Am-Jam.
Today, Dawkins is slamming them for the ‘Trotters and learning to become a showman among showmen - a different job from being a showman among basketball players.
But that he’s on the ‘Trotters roster at all speaks volumes about the team. Namely, that new owner Mannie Jackson, himself a former player who became a top exec at a Fortune 100 company, has committed himself to restoring the luster to a commodity that faded in the past couple of decades.
Jackson bought the troubled team in 1993 and set out to breathe new life into it.
“The Harlem Globetrotters have great brand name equity,” intones Jackson’s official press statement. “Our job is to strengthen and improve the product, re-educate the public, and fully recognize the equity in the brand.”
His players have another way of saying it.
“One of the main things Mannie has done,” said “Special K” Hildreth, “is add a new enthusiasm to what we’re doing.”
In other words, folks, there’s new life in the old team.
“There are changes on the court and off,” said Hildreth, who earned his nickname the night in college he held Hakeem Olajuwon to 10 points.
Those changes include stepping up to hiring the likes of Dawkins, who was killing a little time in the Continental Basketball Association, awaiting a call from the NBA, when Jackson called instead.
“I saw in the newspaper one day that he was in the CBA and I said, `Gee, there has to be a better life for him than that,”’ Jackson told a reporter. “So I offered him a deal - no flowery financial arrangement, but he had a chance to extend his career five, six, seven years, travel the world, and leave behind a legacy unlike that which he could have attained in the NBA.”
The ‘95 version of the Globetrotter show is the Salute to the Family Tour, “Our way of saying we appreciate those families that have grown up with us,” Hildreth said.
Team members are available after the game for autographs, Hildreth said.
Jackson has tied the Globetrotters to charitable activities through the United Way’s “Success By 6” program. Plans are under way for a South African tour that would benefit the African National Congress Sports Fund.
Unless the NBA starts acting like major league baseball, Jackson won’t ever restore the Globetrotters to the stature they enjoyed in the ‘30s and ‘40s, when the NBA was a fledgling league.
“A lot of people don’t know the Globetrotters helped that league get started,” Hildreth said. “It’s a known fact that when the NBA was first starting out, they didn’t draw very many fans.”
To attract fans, NBA teams invited the Globetrotters to play exhibitions after league games “to get the fans in there to see what was going on,” Hildreth said.
African American men weren’t allowed into the NBA then, so the Globetrotters grazed freely among the best players in the land. “That was America’s original Dream Team,” Hildreth said.
Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first black man to play in the NBA, was a Globetrotter, he said, and the last big name to come of the team was Wilt Chamberlain. “That’s when the NBA really started to make its move to get marquee players.”