Given the premise, BallinEurope probably should have guessed at the response. Yesterday’s post, entitled “Are the Harlem Globetrotters still relevant?”, drew less readership than imagined. Which, one supposes, is logical.
Nevertheless, a promise to actually propose a few solutions to fixing up the modern-day irrelevance of a cultural-historical force rare in the game of basketball was made. So, in the hopes that someone from Harlem Globetrotters Basketball Inc. may someday consider this modest proposal, BiE would like to offer the following suggestions in order to make the Globetrotters a household name and raise this team/institution’s standing in the cross-cultural currency of the 21st century.
Get back on the screen. One of the great things about the Globetrotters “back in the day” was the team’s ubiquity in mass media, specifically TV and movies: An aspect that made them seem, to youngsters and adults alike, that much larger-than-life. Seriously, check out this Hollywood résumé:
— In 1950, Columbia Pictures releases a movie entitled “The Harlem Globetrotters,” a fiction about a baller who drops out of college to join the squad;
— sequel “Go, Man, Go!” released in 1954;
— the “Harlem Globetrotters”/“Go-Go Globetrotters” cartoon series from 1970 to 1973;
— two appearances in animated form 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,” which is absolutely worth a YouTube clip;
— and last, but in no way least, the made-for-TV movie “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island,” which is absolutely, positively worth a YouTube clip. (Beware: spoilers within.)
You can see why the team was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Since the glory days of cheesy prime-time programming, however, the Globetrotters have been nigh invisible on the tube and on the screen, despite the explosion in, you know, actual production opportunities. So these guys essentially missed 1980s, 1990s and 2000s TV; plenty of time left to get in in Hollywood.
• Two words to start with: Reality. TV.
The team has already appeared on the ridiculous “Jon & Kate Plus 8” and “The Bachlorette” in 2009, but these guys need to take this wacky TV exposure thing waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay further. BiE doesn’t mean to suggest that the magician should show his tricks or anything, but how about playing up the fact that the Globetrotters, all jokes and kidding aside, are great ballplayers? How about showing what practices look like and what it takes to make the first-team roster? How about the team’s experiences interacting with folks of all cultures? And what is up with those ultra-anonymous Washington Generals?
You mean to tell me that, when everyone from the Octomom to Terrell Owens is pitching or getting pitched reality TV concepts, that the Harlem Freaking Globetrotters couldn’t come up with six or eight watchable one-hour episodes? Come on!
And in Movieland right now, it’s all about the remake/reboot/sequel/prequel. How about a remake of the 1950 movie? Or – getting giddy here – a live-action version of the Super Globetrotters? Like you wouldn’t pay to see that.
• Discover video. Not necessarily the same thing as plunging more thoroughly into Tinseltown productions, but we’re talking DVDs here. If you can line up Bill Cosby, Bill Bradley, Scoop Jackson, Phil Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Chuck D., Barack Obama, and (most impressively) David Stern for choice quotes and/or narration on a one-hour film entitled “The Harlem Globetrotters: The Team That Changed the World,” why wasn’t this a mini-series?
Seriously. The talents of Monty Python’s Flying Circus recently put out a six-episode mini-series about their work and that programme lasted *three and a half years*! Globetrotter basketball began in the 1920s, with still-extant footage spanning over eight decades of hoops. As BiE understands it, the epic matches between the Globetrotters and George Mikan’s BAA champion Minneapolis Lakers were shot for cinema newsreels. Why has the great majority of the world’s population not seen this footage? Why have so few ever seen Wilt the Stilt wearing the red, white and blue?
C’mon, a collection of testimonials, photography collections and game footage from Globetrotters games through history wouldn’t comprise a sah-weet boxed set for any basketball junkie and/or Black History head?
• Play up the personalities. For better or for worse, in the post-Bird/Magic Era, NBA marketing specifically has been all about selling the flash and flair of individuals. In fact, the Globetrotters were essentially ahead of their time in this respect: Ask anyone who remembers the late 1970s or early 1980s to name a Harlem Globetrotter and you’ll get a list of names from what is apparently the Globetrotters’ golden age: Goose, Geese, Curly, Meadowlark … heck, the sole recognizable name to BiE in the Budapest game was the coach: “Sweet Lou” Dunbar, the dude who once sported the magic afro as a superhero.
Though today the nicknames are just as sweet (Buckets, Flight Time, Firefly, Special K), and many of the individual stories are interesting, the personalities on today’s Globetrotters seem purposely muted, as though the franchise fears one personality rising above the rest would damage the club reputation and/or gate receipts. (A trend, incidentally, which would seem to be the complete opposite of reality given any single NBA team’s propensity to will portray itself as “Lebron and the Cavaliers,” “Kobe and the Lakers,” “Carmelo and the Nuggets,” etc.)
To give a concrete example, the Globetrotters have mostly recently made a point of acquiring at least one starter who is comically shorter than the remainder of the team – Hey, Muggsy Bogues had a fruitful career, right? On the current first-team, that’s 5’8” Blenda Rodriguez, who’s been on the team for nine years; Rodriguez also serves as the team’s dribbling master, always one of the most popular figures on the squad. So why don’t we know about him? Why isn’t he making commercials in Spanish to be broadcast worldwide? Speaking of which…
• Internationalize, already. So the Globetrotters want to keep the “Harlem hometown” schtick alive, fine. Great, in fact: Rather than act as merely a bookmark, that “Harlem” reminds one and all that the long-embittered area was once a center of culture in America.
The team has already opened up to non-African-American players and in its 2007 “draft,” selected the marvelous 7’9” Chinese player Sun Mingming. So where is Sun now? Playing ball in Beijing after playing ball in Grand Rapids, Mexico and Japan. As a sign of the times, his “drafting” by the Globetrotters doesn’t even make the Wikipedia entry. And it’s not as though Sun would necessarily avoid playing as a showman; in 2007, he signed with the Maryland Nighthawks in order to help form a publicity-stunt team which included Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan.
So where are the Europeans on either the first team or the team traveling the Eastern Hemisphere? Where are the Brazilians and/or Argentines? Simply putting a Chinese or Spanish speaker on the team would not only increase draw and headlines throughout the year, having a native speaker of a large language could produce any number of comedic possibilities.
• On the same line, a note for the team touring abroad: more physical humor, fewer English language-based jokes. Linguistic abilities aside, which of the following is a young child going to laugh at: Some overly loud admonishments over the public address system or some dude pulling down some other dude’s shorts? What’s more appealing to a non-native speaking audience: Witty repartee usually gaudily colored by slang or the behind the back pass for the jam?
While the precocious seven-year-old answering questions beginning with “Do you speak English?” gets laughs in any country, let’s face it: Jokes about surfing the internet (really) just don’t translate well. And the tendency of the enthusiastic foreigner who doesn’t speak the local language to merely repeat everything misunderstood BUT IN A LOUDER VOICE is ten times as embarrassing when bombastically broadcast to an arena full of uncomprehending folks who just want to see some amusing basketball tricks.
• Finally, suck up to the NBA. By any means necessary. Because that league’s publicity machine has it going on. Learn from the masters, Harlem Globetrotters, and quick because BiE loves ya and wants y’all to stick around in healthy form for decades to come.