It was interesting to gain the perspective from one of the Harlem Globetrotters’ longtime foes.

Nationals don’t mind their role

By Ed Odeven

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (March 9, 2001) — The Harlem Globetrotters continue their tricks … as the New York Nationals continue to be second wheels. But the Nationals players love their jobs.

Minutes after their latest one-sided defeat to the “Ambassadors of Goodwill” on Sunday, the New York Nationals strolled back to their locker room without fan fare or post-game adoration.

To call the Nationals (or the Washington Generals, their team’s most famous alias) the Rodney Dangerfield of basketball would be an understatement. But that’s to be expected.

Bud Abbott needed Lou Costello as much as Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen.

A truly great act relies on role players, those that are willing to accept a supporting role to help the stars shine.

That’s been the plight of the New York Nationals since the early 1950s when Globetrotters’ founder Abe Saperstein and businessman Red Klotz started the club.

Indeed, the Harlem Globetrotters are not expected to lose. It occurs about as often as a convention of urbane yodelers in Walla Walla, Washington.

(When they were beaten by the defending NCAA champion Michigan State Spartans in November, the Globetrotters’ 1,270-game-winning streak came to an end. However, that game was a typical showdown between opponents. The Globetrotters customary antics and slapstick comedy were missing in action as they returned to their barnstorming roots for a spirited battle — in a 74-68 loss.)

That trend continued Sunday afternoon in a game at the Fort Huachuca army base’s Barnes Field House in Sierra Vista, Ariz. — a town approximately an hour’s drive from Tucson. The Globetrotters won 87-54.

Unlike the score of competitors who lose their cool after being defeated, Nationals player-coach Troy Pennington offers a different perspective.

“It’s a great job to have,” he said during a post-game interview. “You get to travel all around the world and the country to play a game that you love to play. It’s the best of both worlds. I really enjoy it a lot.”

Who can blame him?

Since joining the Nationals in 1994, Pennington has been to 33 countries and has a lifetime of memories to share with family and friends.

His favorite destinations?

Playing before Nelson Mandela in a post-apartheid South Africa in 1996, he said, adding that a game in Sao Paolo, Brazil in front of 28,000 fans was an experience he’ll never forget.

“I save everything, poster and stuff like that,” he said with a smile, “so when I get my own little place I’ll have a lot of memories and lots of stuff for my kids to see.”

An easy-going bachelor, Pennington starred at Methodist College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, finishing as the team’s second-leading scorer in his senior season of 1994. He contemplated earning a living playing professionally overseas, and while waiting for the opportunity to go to Europe he submitted a resume to the Nationals.

In 1994, Pennington was invited to a tryout in Albany, N.Y., and earned a spot on the roster.

A better option

Although the fame and fortune of the National Basketball Association was beyond his reach, Pennington said he has no regrets — and doesn’t second-guess himself — about becoming a National.

“A lot of our guys looked to go overseas and play, but this is a lot better because overseas you’re gone eight months out of the year,” he said. “(With this team), we’re gone we come home, we’re gone we come home. This is a lot better.”

Still, the Nationals’ schedule is grueling enough (98 games in 102 days this winter/spring).

After departing from Fort Huachuca on Sunday, the Nationals and Globetrotters were headed to Florence, Alabama, for a Monday night contest.

Familiar foes

Facing the Globetrotters on a daily basis doesn’t lose its luster, according to Pennington. He says the Nationals are always motivated to sneak up and snatch a victory over their long-time nemesis.

“You want to come out every night and play hard and give 110 percent,” he said. “Some nights the shots fall, some nights they don’t. If we don’t win yesterday, we’ll suit it up (tomorrow) and try it again.”

Give the Nationals credit. They are not the feature attraction, but they come out day in and day out and do what they gotta do within the confines of their limited role.

“The people know whether or not we can play,” Pennington said. “When they see the game they know we have athletes, and the Globetrotters have great athletes. We’re just here to put on a good show…”

Spectators routinely laugh, cheer and roar to the Globetrotters’ dizzying, dazzling display of showmanship. The Nationals grin and bear it.

“They’ve got some trick plays we still haven’t figured out yet. Once we figure them out, maybe we’ll get a victory,” Pennington said.

Easier said than done, eh?