Slick Willie Shaw had never seen the Harlem Globetrotters play ball until he stepped onto the court for his first day on the job ... as a Harlem Globetrotter.
He’d heard of the Globetrotters, of course, but he’d never seen the famed clown princes of basketball play during his childhood. He had never seen them live or on TV. Even when he was hired to play on the team, Shaw never really understood the Globetrotters’ appeal until he stepped onto the basketball court in front of a crowd.
And he felt the immediate love.
“It was the Staples Center in L.A.,” Shaw told The Times. “The Staples Center was sold out, and you just felt it. ... Thousands of people who just appreciate that you’re there and that you’re the Globetrotters.”
For the past nine years, Shaw has experienced that feeling throughout the United States and in dozens of countries around the world. He’s seen the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China. He’s played for American troops serving overseas. He’s been on TV shows such as “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition” and “Man vs. Food Nation.”
Later this month, he will experience it again in South Georgia as the Globetrotters stop in Valdosta.
Make no mistake. He may not have seen the Globetrotters as a child, but Shaw spent his young life playing basketball.
A basketball court was across the street from his childhood home in New York’s The Bronx. Even as a youngster, Shaw saw the closeness of those hoops as a sign that basketball was meant to be an integral part of his life.
He began playing at the age of 6. He was a four-year starter for St. John’s University in New York.
In 2003, Shaw led St. John’s to the National Invitational Tournament Championship.
He holds the school’s record for most career three-pointers. “That means he’s a natural for the Globetrotters’ four-point shot, their game-changing innovation that is 35 feet away from the basket,” according to the Harlem Globetrotters organization.
With the Globetrotters, the 6-foot-6 Shaw plays forward. And every night, the Globetrotters step onto the court, no matter the crowds’ immediate affection, no matter the Globetrotters’ many antics, the team comes to play ball.
The team continues playing its own opposition team, but that team has changed in the past couple of years. For decades, the Globetrotters played the Generals. Since the last Valdosta appearance in 2011, the Generals have been retired. Now, the Globetrotters play a team called Global Select.
“There’s a real rivalry there,” Shaw says. “They all played college ball. Everybody comes out to win, and they are trying to beat us every time. But if they beat us, I may be looking for another job.”
Shaw adds that the Globetrotters have not lost a game since 1971.
The Globetrotters continue having a multi-generational appeal. Many middle-aged adults remember their childhoods watching “Meadowlark” Lemon, “Curly” Neal, and “Goose” Tatum, men who were Globetrotters in the 1970s when the team had its own Saturday morning cartoon and appeared on television shows such as “Gilligan’s Island” reunion shows. These are the same players who still appear in reruns of Scooby Doo meets the Harlem Globetrotters.
So it is often adults who introduce today’s youngsters to the latest generation of the Harlem Globetrotters, a team that has been in existence since the 1920s.
At each stop, the Globetrotters quickly win these youngsters over.
“We go out there and to see the look on a child’s face as you spin the ball on your finger,” Shaw says, “you realize you are part of such a rich and positive history.”
The Harlem Globetrotters play Valdosta.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12.
Where: Valdosta State University PE Complex.
Tickets: Visit www.harlemglobetrotters.com; or the VSU Complex Box Office; or www.ticketalternative.com