This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Star in 2001.

Spinning, spanning

Trotters mix talent, mirth all over earth

By Ed Odeven

For 75 years, the Harlem Globetrotters have entertained the masses with their captivating brand of basketball.

World renown for their high-energy antics and spectacular showmanship, the Globetrotters have played before 120 million fans in 115 countries.

Their current tour stops at Barnes Fieldhouse in Fort Huachuca tomorrow for a 1 p.m. game against the New York Nationals.

Sharpshooting Wun “The Shot” Versher, a former Arizona State player, said being a Globetrotter is an experience he’ll always treasure.

“It’s amazing, really amazing how far I’ve actually come being a Globetrotter, not only as a basketball player, but as a person,” Versher said in a phone conversation.

“I’ve seen things I probably would never get to see. I met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Nelson Mandela and people I’d never get to meet (otherwise).”

Dubbed the “Ambassadors of Goodwill,” the Globetrotters have a unique relationship with fans around the world.

“We’re interacting with different cultures, bringing what I call the American treasure. It’s amazing how they respond to us,” Versher said.

“That’s probably the most (satisfying) thing I get, putting smiles on people’s faces and making them laugh, even if we can’t speak their language. We communicate through basketball. We’re the only team that’s able to do that through basketball.”

When owner Mannie Jackson, a former University of Illinois standout and Globetrotter, purchased the team in 1993, he instantly sought to return the team to its roots.

Originally, the barnstorming team went from city to city to face local hoop squads in the first dozen years of the team’s existence. After establishing a reputation as a competitive club, the Globetrotters started to put comical elements into their act featuring legends such as “Clown Prince” Meadowlark Lemon.

And the rest is history. But there have been impressive doses of flat-out dominance against elite teams, too, including a 1940 triumph over George Halas’ Chicago Bruins to win the World Basketball Championship and wins over the back-to-back NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers in 1949 and 1950.

Among the recent highlights:

  • On Sept. 16, 1996, Michael “Wild Thing” Wilson and Sean “Elevator” Williams established a Guinness world record by dunking on a hoop 11 feet, 8 inches off the ground. (Wilson shattered that record last April, slamming a ball through a hoop 12 feet off the ground.)
  • They were the first foreign professional sports team to visit a democratic South Africa, playing before 30,000 spectators in ’96.
  • On April 17, 1997, at America West Arena in Phoenix, the Globetrotters faced a group of college all-stars in a reprisal of the Original World Series of Basketball. They won 126-114. Magic Johnson, fulfilling a childhood dream, suited up for the Globetrotters and helped them beat a group that included nine NBA draft picks.
  • On Jan. 12, 1998, the Globetrotters celebrated their 20,000th game in Remington, Ind. The event was televised live by ESPN2.
  • The Millennium Baby program entitles every baby born in 2000 to have a free lifetime pass to Globetrotter games in the U.S.

In conjunction with the 2001 NCAA men’s Final Four, the Globetrotters will participate in the NABC Roundball Challenge on March 30 against a team of college all-stars.