In tribute/homage/ripoff to that movie-award ceremony thing going on in Los Angeles this evening PST, BallinEurope bestows its own prizes for the best in basketball movies released and/or screened during the year that was — as BiE refers to them, the Oscar (Robertson)s.
Second of the four Oscar (Robertson) Awards for 2012 is the result of a new wrinkle — and a couple of salient reminders of what certain folks have given to the game of basketball. BallinEurope’s new Oscar (Robertson) for Lifetime Achievement in Basketball Movies goes to The Harlem Globetrotters.
Known worldwide for their standing as the winningest franchise of all-time, for their status as international goodwill ambassadors, for serving as the last high-profile barnstorming team in any sport, the Globetrotters have also amassed quite the impressive CV of credits in the movie game as well … at least before the 1980s. For Globetrotters in the mass media, there’s
– Columbia Pictures’ “The Harlem Globetrotters” (1950), a fiction about a baller who drops out of college to join the squad;
– the sequel “Go, Man, Go!” released in 1954;
– the “Harlem Globetrotters”/“Go-Go Globetrotters” cartoon series from 1970 to 1973;
– two appearances on “Scooby-Doo” in 1972;
– two appearances on “The White Shadow” television series, undoubtedly the most popular basketball-themed TV show ever to run in America;
– the 1974 weekly TV variety show “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine”;
– the 1979 animated TV series “The Super Globetrotters”;
– two television documentaries on the team’s history in the mid-2000s; and
– this, of course:
And the list doesn’t even include the classic turn taken by the immortal Meadowlark Lemon in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, whose stupendous critical mass of awesomeness is not to be underrated.
Recent years have seen the Trotters’ mass-media appearances limited to one-shots on tawdry reality shows such as “The Bachelorette”, “The Apprentice” and “Jon and Kate Plus 8.” (According to IMDB, something called “Dennis Rodman vs The Harlem Globetrotters” was released by the Howard Stern machine in 2007, but damned if BiE knows anything about that…)
Now BiE has questioned the very relevance of the Harlem Globetrotters in an age when arguably more impressive stunts from real game situations can be seen daily on YouTube, when dunk contests package ready-made highlight clips, when domestic leagues outside of North America are more frequently seen as a viable professional option for those not in the NBA — but a pair of ESPN documentaries released in 2012 serve to remind of the historical impact the Globetrotters have had on the game and their contemporary pop-cultural influence, albeit a muted one since their 1970s glory days.
In February, as part of the “ESPN Films Presents” series, the big network debuted “Goose,” a nostalgic look at Reece “Goose” Tatum that would feel right at home within Ken Burns’ “Baseball” mini-series if, you know, it had been about basketball. Quite possibly the most popular Globetrotter ever, this eponymous documentary seeks to capture the man/myth/legend in the wake of his posthumous induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2011.
And geez, does this film achieve the goal. With a wonderful combination of clips and remeniscing from some of the game’s serious heavy-hitters (Julius Erving and Jerry West, just to name two), the viewer comes to believe the comparisons of Tatum to Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, even (gasp) Michael Jordan are legitimate. And how can the 21st-century fan not pay homage to Goose after watching this film for essentially inventing modern showmanship and trash-talking?
Like the best documentaries, Goose presents an educational experience made fun — how could it be any other way when a bonafide Harlem Globetrotter is involved?
Another Globetrotter of legend contributes a cameo in the “30 for 30: Volume 2” documentary There’s No Place Like Home.
This film features the efforts of University of Kansas basketball fan Josh Swade to win the original document bearing Dr. James Naismith’s original rules of basketball at auction for public display on campus.
As No Place Like Home approaches the climactic moment at Sotheby’s, who else gets brought out of mothballs to create a little hoops-feeling atmosphere? Ball-handler extraordinaire Curly Neal! While Neal’s on-screen time consists of about 15 seconds of fingertip ball-spinning and later expressions of (completely unironic) surprise as the price for Naismith’s rules surpasses that for *an original copy of the FREAKING EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION SIGNED BY ABRAHAM LINCOLN*, BiE couldn’t help but notice the significance of the choice.
Think about it: To pump up the cachet for an event, one of the world’s most prestigious auction houses brings in a then-69 year-old baller who never played a single game in the NBA — What other basketball team could produce a draw like that?
And Neal’s brief appearance in No Place Like Home is truly a breath of fresh air amid the extremely self-conscious, nearly humorously grim quest taken on by the documentary’s subject. BiE dares say one will rarely find a celebration of fandom that’s so damn workmanlike. Set against Wade’s possession obsession, Curly’s cameo — like just about the entirety of Goose — remind us that we’re not supposed to *work* ball, we’re supposed to *play* ball. And this is the priceless message which the Globetrotters are uniquely qualified to send.