Thu, April 26, 2012
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Harlem Globetrotters bring joy to Beijing kids

2012-04-26 06:24:23 GMT2012-04-26 14:24:23(Beijing Time)  China Daily

Buckets Blakes, left, Paul Sturgass Handles Franklin of the Harlem Globetrotters teach a girl how to spin the ball with one finger during a drill at Beijing Runfeng School on April 25, 2012. [Yan Weijue/]

Students stretch following instructions from Harlem Globetrotter players in Beijing, April 25, 2012. [Yan Weijue/]

Handles Franklin of the Harlem Globetrotters gives tips to students before a dribbling contest in Beijing, April 25, 2012. [Yan Weijue/]

Buckets Blakes of the Harlem Globetrotters shows students how to make a layup in Beijing, April 25, 2012. [Yan Weijue/]

Paul Sturgass of the Harlem Globetrotters watches as a girl passes the ball during a drill in Beijing, April 25, 2012. [Yan Weijue/]

Students enjoy lessons given by the Harlem Globetrotters in Beijing, April 25, 2012. [Yan Weijue/]

The Harlem Globetrotters and students at Beijing Runfeng School pose for photos on April 25, 2012. [Yan Weijue/]

By Yan Weijue

The gym at Beijing Runfeng School turned into a sea of jubilation as the faculty welcomed a visit by the Harlem Globetrotters, one of the most well-known basketball teams in the world.

Three of the 29-member exhibition squad, Handles Franklin, Paul Sturgass aka Tiny -- the world's tallest pro baller at 7'8" -- and Buckets Blakes, taught the crowd of more than 100 some skills such dribbling, passing, and layups, in a two-hour training course, the fifth leg of their five-day tour of the capital.

Widely known for their wizardry, the players also provided a fair amount of joy as they picked people in the stands, including a teacher, and asked them to imitate some of their signature tricks on the court.

So it was no wonder the crowd burst into big laughter when a peer said hello to them before he threw the ball behind from between his legs, and another found it impossible to slap a high-five with the giant Tiny, who raised his hand to the sky, and another wagged his behind after circling the ball around his waist and legs.

Yes, the philosophy of the Harlem Globetrotters is that the game could be, and should be, entertaining.

"It's all fun. It's about bringing family together. About putting smiles on their faces," says Handles Franklin, the most vivacious of the trio. "China has the greatest fans in the world. They are all energetic and excited."

Beyond basketball

The final phase of the drill was, to the slight surprise of some, a lecture on life.

Franklin used himself as an example to explain how important it is to stick to one's goal. The 30-year-old was captivated with the dazzling Globetrotters when he first saw them on TV when he was only 6 years old. Growing up in a poor neighborhood in Harrisburg, Pa, he worked as hard as he could toward his dreams in the next two decades, before he became one of the world's smoothest ball handlers and picked up by the team in 2007.

"Since I saw them on a cartoon, I never want to do anything else in my life," he said. "I worked my entire life trying to be a Harlem Globetrotter, just concentrating on being the best. Now I'm here and I'm happy to be one of them."

He added that compared with being a well-known basketball player, it was more important to be a role model "who can tell positive things to the kids in life."

The educational significance was also echoed by Jeff Munn, the team's executive vice president.

"We talk about things outside basketball, like education, about preparing, about practicing, about listening to your parents…and all the things that moms and dads like to hear. That is what we preach," he says. "But at the same time, basketball can be about tremendous fun. So when the players come out, you can see they have a lot of fun and interaction with the kids."

"You want to get our photos with autographs on them?" Franklin yelled out, and continued after receiving a warm response. "Then you must promise me three things. First, study hard. Second, listen to your parents and teachers. And last, keep healthy and drink milk."

According to the team's schedule, they will spend the last day of their Beijing tour visiting a children's hospital and an orphanage.

"We are proud of ourselves being ambassadors of goodwill. So we go all over the world, spreading good cheer and bridging the gap between our cultures," Franklin said.

China ties

Boasting a history of 86 years, the Harlem Globetrotters pitched in big in the promotion of basketball culture across the world. They have played more than 20,000 exhibition games in 118 countries.

"Way back to the 1950s, when basketball was nowhere but the US, the Globetrotters started a world tour and introduced basketball everywhere," Franklin said. "Now look at basketball, it is big everywhere."

"Way back to the 1950s, when basketball was nowhere but the US, the Globetrotters started a world tour and introduced basketball everywhere," Franklin said. "Now look at basketball, it is big everywhere."

Harlem Globetrotters landed in the territory of China for the first time in 1991, when Yao Ming, one of the sport's greatest players of all time, watched them play as a fan at the age of 10. After sporadic visits in the next 18 years, they decided to include China as part of their annual world tour. Starting in 2009, the team has done three large China tours in a row. A fourth one in July has been inked on the agenda.

If that is not enough to get you on your feet, let me just add that they are looking for a first-ever Chinese player on the team, in spite of some stringent requirements.

"We are in a process of the beginning the search. (But) there are a lot of great fundamental talent in China," Munn said. "So there is no reason we can't give an opportunity to someone here in China."

But just imagine how good a player has to be to even get noticed by the Globetrotters, whose players, including NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson, are all specialists in the sport. What is more, being good is not enough to get the nod.

"To be a Harlem Globetrotter, you have to be a tremendous basketball player, first and foremost. Then you have to be an entertainer as well as a good person. And so those three criteria are what we require of all our players. If they meet that, they can have a long career at Harlem Globetrotters," he said.

China's Sun Mingming, currently playing for the CBA champions Beijing Ducks, almost became a Harlem Globetrotter in 2007. At 7'8", he was drafted by the team then, but the signing did not come through due to personal reasons.



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