The Harlem Globetrotters are cocky bastards. They’re not whimsical, they’re not inspirational, and they’re certainly not American heroes. They’re sadistic bullies who’ll do whatever it takes to win, no matter how cruel or degrading.
I could be biased. See, last week the Globetrotters played the Washington Generals at the Orleans Arena, and I had money riding on the Generals. Like Krusty the Clown, who lost his life savings betting on the Generals, I figured the team was due.
You’d think placing a bet on a basketball team that’s three-and-a-half decades into a 10,000-game losing streak would be easy, but none of the sports books in town would take my bet. According to the manager of the Venetian sports book, “Las Vegas casinos only take bets on legitimate sporting competitions, not exhibition events. You can’t bet on the all-star game, and you can’t bet on American Idol.”
“But can’t you make an exception for the Generals? They haven’t won since 1971.”
“Call up an offshore sports book and place a bet with them,” he suggested.
I called my dad instead. He’s a lifelong Globetrotters fan, and was willing to take my bet. We agreed that I’d give him $1 if the Globetrotters won and he’d give me $1,000 if the Generals did.
Before the game, I told Generals team captain Ben Augustine (6’6”, 210 lbs.) about my bet.
“I’ll try my best out there,” he assured me, “but I have to tell you, I’ve been playing with the Generals for four years and haven’t won yet, so I can’t make you any promises.”
“But you’ll try?”
“Of course I’ll try. I always try. Everyone on the team does. Every time we take the court, we do our best to win.”
“But you never have.”
“Not yet—no. But to me, it’s not about winning or losing; it’s about how you play the game. Energy, efforts, hustle, winning loose balls, crashing the boards—that’s what’s most important to me.”
I took my seat at the press table, and the announcer introduced the Washington Generals starting lineup. Children booed. The jeers provoked the Washington Generals coach into grabbing the microphone from the announcer and giving this speech:
“I hope you kids didn’t come here today expecting to see the Globetrotters win, because if you did, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Today the Washington Generals are going to make history, right here in Las Vegas—the armpit of America.”
I know that sounds bad, but you have to remember where this guy is coming from. He’s been coaching the Generals for years and has yet to win a game. He’s frustrated with the league, and probably with himself. The Las Vegas swipe was textbook Freudian projection, and he shouldn’t be blamed for it.
The announcer cued up “Sweet Georgia Brown” and introduced the Globetrotters, who ran onto the court and into their trademark circle formation. In a desperate, transparent plea for attention, the Trotters passed basketballs behind their backs, rolled them along their arms and spun them on their heads.
The Harlem Globetrotters took an early lead, and every time the Generals came close to closing the gap, the Globetrotters cheated. For example, when Washington General Christopher Spartz was about to make a layup, one of the Trotters ripped his jersey off. The shirtless, humiliated Spartz ran off-court to the sound of 1,000 sadistic children laughing. The referee called a foul and escorted Spartz to the foul line. When Spartz was about to take his first free throw, one of the Trotters pulled his pants down, and again, the kids went wild.
These children clearly have no appreciation of what a serious issue bullying is. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 160,000 students stay home from school on any given day because they’re afraid of getting bullied. And as for those doing the bullying, (i.e., the future Globetrotters of America), 60 percent of them will have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24.
Considering their predisposition for humiliation, you must be wondering how the Globetrotters kept public opinion on their side throughout the game. Well, let me tell you: They did it through shameless pandering. For example, during the quarter break one Globetrotter invited a cute little girl onto the court and spun a basketball on her finger. Then he gave her a T-shirt.
The Generals trailed by 14 points at halftime. I joined Spartz and team captain Augustine in the Generals locker room at halftime. The coach was all business:
“Listen up. Listen up. Not a bad half, but you’ve got to do a better job protecting the ball. On defense, call your man out; call out ‘13’; call out ‘49.’ You’ve got to set better screens, too. If you stay focused, your shots will start falling. We know we’re a better team in the second half, so let’s make history happen here tonight.”
After the coach’s speech, Augustine introduced me to the rest of the guys and told them about my bet. Some of them laughed—bad sign—but others asked if I had any pointers for them.
“Actually, I do. The Trotters pretty much run the same play every time, but you never seem to catch on. They weave the ball at the three-point line for 10 seconds, then pass to the tall guy at the free-throw line, and he feeds it to one of the shorter guys who come in from the side and dunks. Same play again and again, but you look so surprised every time it happens.”
“I’ll tell you what else: We just elected a guy named Barack Hussein Obama to be our president. Some small-budget Indian movie called Slumdog Millionaire just won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, and it’s probably going to win the Oscar, too. This is the year of the underdog. I know a lot of kids came here tonight to see the Globetrotters win. But don’t think about them tonight; think about the underdogs; think about the boy who always gets picked last in gym class, and win this game for him.”
The Generals rallied in the third quarter. I was clearly a major influence here, but the Generals coach deserves most of the credit. When the referee wasn’t looking, the coach switched the official game ball with a remote-controlled basketball. When the ref figured out what was going on and switched the ball back, the coach put a clear disc over the Globetrotters’ rim so none of their shots could fall in. And when the ref figured that one out, the coach walked over to the scoreboard control pad and upped the Generals’ score by 16 points.
I know that sounds bad. But again, you have to remember where the Generals coach is coming from. His team has been stripped down, humiliated, dehumanized—not just for the past hour, but for the past three and a half decades.
I knew the Generals were in trouble when one of the Trotters stole the ball from team captain Augustine by crawling under his massive legs. Augustine looked completely befuddled, and throughout the final five minutes of the game, the rest of the Generals did too.
The Globetrotters won 81 to 68. Children cheered and rushed to the court to have their photo snapped with Sweet Pea Shine, Big Easy Lofton, Flight Time Lang and the rest of the domineering braggarts.
An hour later, I got a phone call from my dad.
“Who won the big game?” he wanted to know.
“It’s not about winning or losing,” I told him. “It’s about how you play the game.”