You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

SportsBiz: The Globetrotters go full Magic Circle

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

Anyone over the age of 25 surely will remember the episodes of "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" featuring Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal and the rest of the Harlem Globetrotters.

It has been decades since the "Clown Princes of Basketball" have registered that high on the pop culture meter, but recent appearances on high-profile television shows suggest that the team may be re-emerging as a popular entertainment option 83 years after their founding.

The Globetrotters start their North American tour later this month and will feature a Dec. 29 show at Patriot Center and another Dec. 30 at Verizon Center. And their appearances come in the wake of buzz about the performance of Herbert "Flight Time" Lang and Nathaniel "Big Easy" Lofton on the CBS reality show "The Amazing Race."

"I think we won a lot with kids around the world by how well we played and how we got along with each other so well," said Lofton, who serves as the "Showman" for many of the Globetrotters' games.

Lang and Lofton finished fourth in the race, which featured a dozen teams traveling around the world and competing in challenges along the way. The experience was not unlike their jobs as Globetrotters, which take them to nearly 100 countries and scores of U.S. cities over the course of a season.

"It was a lot of pressure, a different kind of pressure we're used to," Lofton said. "You get to a point and you open an envelope, and until you open that envelope you have no idea what's ahead of you."

The appearance of Globetrotters on "The Amazing Race" comes after seven team members, including Lang, made a guest appearance on ABC's "The Bachelorette" in May. Team members also appeared in Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" and an episode of TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8." It's all part of a broad strategy to bring the Globetrotters back into the public consciousness after years of financial uncertainty.

"I do think it will catapult us and give us the boost to where we want to be, where we used to be," said Anthony "Buckets" Blakes, who will be entering his eighth season with the team.

Globetrotters games usually feature a combination of real basketball and showmanship, with ball tricks, slam dunks and crowd interaction. (The old "confetti in the water bucket" gag is still seen as a classic.) All players are encouraged to interact with fans and personally respond to all e-mails while on the road.

While the team appeared to peak in popularity in the 1980s, its parent company went bankrupt and left the team's future in doubt. Former Globetrotters player Mannie Jackson bought the team in 1993 and restored it to profitability but was criticized for shifting the team's focus toward more-serious basketball. Shamrock Holdings, an investment firm owned by the Disney family, bought the company in 2005 and installed former WWE marketing chief Kurt Schneider as chief executive. Jackson now serves as a member of the team's board of directors.

Schneider has leveraged his marketing experience to push the Globetrotters back onto television, and there has been talk of a new animated series featuring the team. He also resumed the legendary "rivalry" between the hapless Washington Generals after a 12-year break.

"Definitely, we wanted to let people know that the Globetrotters are still around because some people thought that we might have died on Gilligan's Island," Lang said. "We're still around, and we look forward to carrying the tradition."