Globetrotter, Phoenix native delivers shot of goodwill
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Phoenix’s Coffelt-Lamoreaux housing project, the home for many low-income families near downtown Phoenix, faced demolition before a $44 million renovation launched in 2016.
Harlem Globetrotters guard Buckets Blakes is proud to have been among the families who lived there.
“I’m from here. I grew up in this neighborhood,” said Blakes during a recent visit to Lowell Elementary School, in advance of the Globetrotters’ appearance at Grand Canyon University Arena at 7 p.m. Saturday. “… This was my stomping ground. When I saw this as a school on my schedule, I got, like, real excited. It’s in the same district as the elementary school I went to.”
Blakes walked the hallways of nearby Bethune Elementary, among others, before moving with his family to far west Phoenix.
He told students, too, about the time he spent as a kid at the Harmon Park basketball court, a historic court in south Phoenix where many famous college and professional players competed, including GCU Men’s Basketball Coach Dan Majerle and two other retired professional players, Steve Colter and Rudy White.
“I always had the chance to go to Harmon Park and play basketball, so I’m very happy to be here to speak to you all,” he said.
Blakes, who is one of nine siblings, has found success away from home, but he never has forgotten where he comes from. He credits much of that success to strong, focused parents.
“My parents always put us in everything positive,” he said. “They always involved us in sports. You know, school’s important. But most importantly, they believed in us, so no matter what we were doing, it could be macaroni necklaces – even if it didn’t look good, my mom loved it,” said Blakes, who was accompanied to the talk at Lowell by his mom.
“If I asked my dad, you know, for $5, he’d probably take me to go mow lawns. So they always believed in us.”
Lowell is one of about 400 schools the Globetrotters visit annually.
Blakes’ talk centered around “The ABC’s of Bullying Prevention.” He weaved a short history of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters, a team formed in the late 1920s in Chicago, not Harlem. The team was named after the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, a golden era of African-American culture centered in Harlem, N.Y.
The team broke barriers, he said, when one of its players, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, became the first African-American to sign an NBA contract in 1950 with the New York Knicks.
“Because of him, it opened the floodgate for all nationalities to be able to play professional basketball on that level,” Blakes said. “… Not only did we break the color barrier in the game of basketball, the Harlem Globetrotters also broke the gender barrier.”
The Globetrotters are the first professional men’s basketball team to include women on the roster. The first was Lynette Woodard in 1985, who won a gold medal with the U.S. team in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Fourteen more women have played for the Globetrotters since then, including four currently on the team.
“Not allowing someone to play a particular sport because of the color of their skin is a form of bullying, and not allowing someone to play a particular sport because they’re a girl is also a form of bullying,” Blakes said.
Blakes advised students to tell a teacher if they see someone getting bullied: “I know it’s frowned upon sometimes among your friends to be called a tattletale or a snitch, but it’s OK to go tell someone so you can prevent somebody else from being hurt. If a bully never gets caught, that person will continue to be a bully. … If you feel like the bully may come after you, you can wait until you get home, you can tell your parents or your guardians, and they can call the school and let them know what’s going on.”
He told the students about the time in school when he was bullied.
It was during breakfast when a bully told him, “‘Hey, you can’t sit here. This is my table.’ I said, ‘The table doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the school.’ I just kept eating my breakfast. So he started calling me names and telling jokes about me at the table. Everybody at the table, they were laughing, and you know, making fun of me. But actually, the dude’s jokes were pretty funny, so I started laughing, too.”
Blakes finished his breakfast and walked away, right to his first-period gym class, where the gym teacher had a talk with the bully.
“We ended up being friends after that because I walked away. … It’s always best to simply walk away.”
Blakes, who also lettered in track and football, moved away from Phoenix to go to Arizona Western College and then the University of Wyoming. He played overseas in Cypress and Finland before being contacted by the Globetrotters.
Blakes has been with the team for 15 years, and he went back to school a few years ago, receiving his degree in Psychology in 2012.
“I would take quizzes during halftime,” he said.
After his “ABC’s of Bullying Prevention” talk, Blakes spoke about the longevity of the Globetrotters.
The team continues to be such a beloved fixture in American pop culture, he said, because the organization doesn’t try to be like anyone else. In addition, just as GCU is dedicated to good works, the legendary basketball team does the same as America’s “Ambassadors of Goodwill.”
In addition to all the schools the players visit, they do a tour specifically for American troops. The team has traveled around world as goodwill ambassadors.
“(We are) just continuing to be ourselves and what this brand represents,” Blakes said. “Introducing the game of basketball around the world to places that didn’t have any running water or electricity – you know, the Globetrotters have been to those places and have bridged gaps.”
Blakes said a place that made a big impression on him was Lithuania.
— Lana Sweeten-Shults (@LanaSweetenShul) October 17, 2017
“Basketball’s a religion in that country,” he said, mentioning players such as Arvydas Sabonis, who played for the Portland Trail Blazers, and his son, Domantas, who also plays for the Indiana Pacers. “But Arvydas Sabonis let everyone know that Lithuanian players are legit.”
While the Globetrotters continue to do what they’ve done since the 1920s – enchant audiences with their skill and showmanship – they also try to be on the cutting edge. They have mobile apps, including a Globetrotter app where you could do crazy shots. Their Twitter handle is @Globies. They have a Harlem Globetrotters Instagram, a Harlem Globetrotters YouTube channel and have set 16 Guinness World Records.
Blakes broke the Guinness World Records record for the most basketball underhanded half-court shots in one minute — he made six in 46 seconds, one more than the previous record. He also made the highest shot in team history in March 2016. It was an epic shot from 300 feet above Georgia’s Stone Mountain.
And recently, on Oct. 11, Blakes and four other teammates set another Guinness World Record on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in New York. They were shooting for a record 200 half-court shots in one hour, and they made 348.
Of course, beyond all those accomplishments, Blakes just likes to get back home to Phoenix, where he still lives when he’s not on the road with the team.
“I’m proud to be from Phoenix,” he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Harlem Globetrotters
Where: GCU Arena
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28
Tickets: Range from $18 to $145. It’s an additional $22 for the pre-event pass, which gets you access to the court before the game to hang out with the team, learn trick shots and more (ticket prices do not include fees)
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at (602) 639-7901 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.