….I walked into the Palace of Auburn Hills, heard “Sweet Georgia Brown” and started crying….that freaked out my wife and two daughters….they are still talking about it.
But let me tell you how I got to this emotional peak…I was born a poor, black child…no, wait a minute, wrong story…I grew up in Mississippi in the middle of the Delta where the nearest gathering of folks you’d describe as a town was six miles away. I was on a cotton farm, the last of four kids and the family TV picked up four channels, WABG (ABC), WJTV (CBS), WLBT (NBC) and the Morgan Freeman channel or PBS.
When I wasn’t fishing, riding my bike, swimming, playing baseball or running around with my dog, I was watching TV. On Saturdays it was ABC’s Wide World of Sports where Jim McKay and his band of cohorts that included Bob Uecker, Howard Cosell, Dandy Don Meredith and many others took me to far away places like Acapulco where men would dive off of cliffs and other exotic locales. But my all-time favorite was when the Harlem Globetrotters were on.
These basketball magician/entertainers would make me laugh and amaze me with their antics and athletic prowess. Meadowlark Lemon was the grand master of ceremonies, directing traffic on the court with his cast of “straight men” who always set up his jokes and pranks flawlessly each and every time. Curly Neal and his dribbling skills would soon try to be copied when the last buzzer sounded.
But to actually see them in person, well, that wasn’t so easy. My hamlet was at least a three-hour drive to Memphis where they may come through and my dad wasn’t big into sports and his farming kept him tied up most of the time. Seeing the Globetrotters would go at the top of my unwritten bucket list. For 40 years, that simple desire lay planted until it sprang to life. Living in the Detroit metro area, I knew they came through town every year, but it was always when funds were lacking and pulling out enough money to fund a family of four at the palace isn’t easy. But as a freelance sports writer, I called the Palace and asked if I could come and cover the event. They said yes. I asked if I could bring my family. Again, they said yes.
I gathered up my family, forced the kids to put on tennis shoes (in case they got called to the court to be a part of the show) and drove to the Palace of Auburn Hills. We had incredible seats in section 114 almost at mid-court. I started down the steps to the court with my family in front of me and suddenly 40 years of a dream coming true right in front of me and having the three people who love me the most in the world…well, I started crying. A grown man, walking into a sports arena to the strains of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the famous pre-game warm up going on right in front of me was just too much joy to handle.
I tried to stifle the tears but it was too much to staunch. We were sitting and my wife looks over expecting to find the biggest smile in the world but sees a red-faced-what-looks-like-a-man-who-just-got-awful-news-and-is-crying in my seat. She freaked out, my daughters tried to ignore me. I mouthed, “I’m Happy!” but she didn’t believe it at first.
But there I was, living a dream and with my wife and kids. I wanted them to know these master entertainers and athletes. And my Harlem Globetrotters didn’t disappoint. With “Special K” holding down the emcee role, if I closed my eyes I was with Meadowlark and Curly and the whole gang again. The gags from four decades are still there but updated for a new audience with new Globetrotters with names like Airport, Tiny, Too-Tall, Bull, Slick and many others.
We laughed throughout and even got a couple of autographs after the game. My wife caught a wristband thrown up to us from Spider and my kids and wife all got a red-white and blue basketball, which they played with the minute we got home.
On the way home, they all wanted to know why it was such an emotional experience for me and I tried to explain it as I’ve tried here. I think they got it. I told them that if I didn’t have a family and I just saw what I saw, then I was actually ready to die.
I’ve cried four or five times while writing this remembering it all again. And I’ve got photos and videos to relive it all. The Globetrotters have a hold on the folks of my generation and I want them to have a hold on many generations to come. My kids said they loved it and that’s all I wanted from the event but I got so much more.
Do you have a Harlem Globetrotter memory? Lemme know….
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