Although at first they seem opposite concepts and different worlds, there is a lot of professionalism in entertainment. In the case of NBA basketball -especially since the Los Angeles Lakers perfected the idea of the showtime, at the beginning of the 8s- the fact that its players are professionals is almost always valued as something positive, even when the league and the game itself implicitly carry the notion of entertainment. But basketball as a show has existed for a long time. In 1926, when basketball was still a young sport and practiced almost exclusively by white players, an African-American team designed to entertain emerged. Much later -in 2013, almost 90 years later- Corey “Thunder” Lawbegan to put into practice a mantra, which is also his passion and his way of life: be an entertainment professional.
“To be a Globetrotter it is not enough to be a good player”says Thunder from California, at the distance of a call with LA NACION magazine. “I could tell you that there are three fundamental elements in this team: being a good person, being funny and having fun, and being a good basketball player. And there are three things that form a kind of circle, because just as it is not useful just to be a good player, it is also not useful to be fun and not know how to play”, he summarizes. The combination of virtues exhibited by the Harlem Globetrotters can be appreciated and enjoyed this Saturday, August 20 at Luna Park, in double shift: there is a performance at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. “We know that many people, if not the majority, will be seeing our show for the first time. And it doesn’t matter if there are 20,000 or 50 people, we work to entertain them and make them have a good time. The effort is always the same so that the show always has the same level”.
Corey Law is a child of the 90s, just like grunge, the Gulf War and The Simpsons. He spent the more or less normal childhood of any African-American boy from Chesapeake, Virginia. When he finished high school he realized that, with his technical skills and personal qualities, he could be an entertainment professional, but his family mandate took him to High Point University in North Carolina. . Once there, the only thing that interested him was playing basketball for the university team, an activity that over time became a school in itself. “I would tell you that I learned more things with basketball than with formal educationsays Thunder. “And that’s because I really like learning. Already on tour with the Globetrotters it frustrated me to spend a week in Spain or South America. and not even being able to order food in the local language. And it’s not that they couldn’t understand me in English, but it’s important for me to adapt to where I am,” he says.
For a person who spends a good part of the year traveling the world, it is necessary to set up a routine that works beyond work. “There are three things I like to do when I travel: learn the language, eat the local food and dance to the native music”says Corey, who has been to Argentina once and has great memories of empanadas: “I love them, it’s what I most expect from going there.” But after three straight weeks of planes and capsizes, nothing values more than home. “What I enjoy doing the most, when I’m not on tour, is being at home. Relax, be with my wife and two daughters. After spending the whole year on tour, resting and not doing anything too crazy is a good plan”, he adds.
The pandemic and records
Thunder has been part of the Harlem Globetrotters since 2013, and since then he has not stopped getting on planes and visiting countries, with the only exception of the 2020-2021 period, when everything was suspended due to the pandemic. “I will never forget that day: it was March 12, 2020, when they told us that they were going to put everything on hold. I came from visiting more than 30 countries, to appear with the team several times a week, and all of a sudden all that was no more. I tried to keep myself busy, but 16 months is a long time to make things up“, He says. And so much free time led to a beautiful madness: set out to break as many Guinness World Records as possible.
“When I joined the Globetrotters everyone had more or less an idea of what they were already capable of, so I I set out to do something different. I knew he was good at long range shots. We discussed it with the franchise and we knew it would be good marketing if one of us had the world record for the longest shot. And then other records were added, and social networks make all of that more known, “says Thunder, who has eight world records such as the longest shot made, the most alley oops in a minute, and the shot made a longer distance, but from behind and with the ball coming out between the legs. “These are important things to generate interest and conversations like this,” says Corey, who kind of knows that those marks are of little use to the game itself. “I looked at the Guinness book when I was a kid, and now I’m in it, and it’s very good.”
The Harlem Wanderers
The Harlem Globetrotters were the brainchild of Abe Saperstein, a former British athlete born in London, but who had lived in Chicago since he was 6 years old, so he perfectly understood American saying, doing and feeling. The Savoy Big Five (their original name) began as a serious and competitive team, and from 1929 they used the name by which they are known to this day. The Globetrotters were never New Yorkers, but they adopted the man from the Harlem neighborhood in reference to the African-American community in the United States. At this point it is convenient to clarify some data to have a certain
perspective: basketball had been invented by the Canadian James Naismith in 1891, Chuck Taylor would not put his name on the most famous basketball shoes until 1932, and only in 1946 would the NBA be created. There were still almost 60 years to go before that legendary Barcelona ’92 Dream Team was known. Basketball was a new sport, reserved for whites.
The Harlem Globetrotters were so good that it was difficult to find another team that could match them, so they put aside the competition to focus on the show. On the other hand, the Washington Generals (today called New York Nationals) officiated as sparring partners. While one team showed off with spectacular dunks, impossible stunts and amazing plays, the other was dedicated to playing as basic a basketball as possible. Like a kind of “Titans in the ring” in which the winner was always known in advance, the Globetrotters dedicated themselves to playing the game for fun. “The only plan we have is to win the game, we can’t lose,” says Thunder, asked about the role of the coach in a team that seems to have no rivals. “Be careful, when Lou Dunbar says something we all listen to him, because he is a benchmark for our team.”
“To entertain you also have to be competitive”Corey snaps. It is clear that although the team’s mission is to create a show with basketball as its support, they are also interested in making it clear that they know how to play and that they could compete in any league that gave them a place. The Thunder get serious when asked if the Harlem Globetrotters could beat an NBA champion team. “We already did it”, he will say without further ado. He is referring to the games in which the Globetrotters beat the Minneapolis Lakers, in 1948 and 1949, when the NBA was still called BAA (Basketball Association of America) and when the Globetrotters were recognized as the best team in the United States.
For decades the NBA was considered a fringe league, and its players barbarians. It was the Globetrotters who served the purpose of legitimizing players like Wilt Chamberlain, and even making inclusion in the league possible: Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton was the first African-American player to come to the NBA since the Globetrotters, and the third in the league. organization history. Currently the roles are reversed and It’s the Harlems that claim some of that lost attention.. In a letter sent in 2021 to the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, they claimed to be admitted as a new franchise “right now”. It is not very clear if it is a real request, or a new marketing strategy.
“The Globetrotters’ style of play was something that we all later got to experience in the NBA,” said Phil Jackson, the coach of the multi-champion Chicago Bulls, among other legendary teams. Would the NBA have been the same as it was later, not only from the game, but also from the social and from the inclusion? “We continue to fill stadiums and grow basketball around the world, we are ambassadors of a historic franchise and we are proud of that,” says a politically correct Thunder, who knows that the Globetrotters they had to face a much more difficult opponent than those Lakers they beat: racism. The team was not just an opportunity for them: there was an entire African-American community that could see themselves reflected in their athletes, and show that they too could play, even better.
“You don’t have to like basketball to enjoy what we do,” Thunder closes before continuing with the round of interviews in which he will rehearse more or less the same story. After all, the numbers are objective: in 96 years they were seen by around 150 million viewers in more than 130 countries, including the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war, and they scored 18 world records in 48 hours. Good basketball and pure entertainment, all at the same time.
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Be a Globetrotters. “I learned more from basketball than from formal education,” says star Corey “Thunder” Law