Born to lose
What do a goose and a meadowlark have in common? More than you think — if you are a Harlem Globetrotter fan.
Reece “Goose” Tatum, the original “Clown Prince of Basketball”, talked his friend, George “Meadowlark” Lemon, into joining the other merrymakers in the red, white and blue uniforms of the Globetrotters.
Goose and Meadowlark paved the way for others with fowl-sounding nicknames, Donald “Ducky” Moore, Jonathan “Hawk” Thomas and Hubert “Geese” Ausbie, thus proving the adage, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
In March 1955, the Globetrotters played their first nationally televised game, and the Haley family’s Zenith black and white television was tuned to one of the three television stations in Cincinnati. Precisely at 1:30 p.m. we turned on the Soupy Sales Show to watch Soupy get a few pies in the face before the Globetrotters came on.
At about 1:40 p.m. two incidents occurred in rapid succession. Soupy Sales opened his mouth wide to laugh, and a fast-moving lemon meringue pie hit him square in the teeth.
The second event was far less amusing.
The dreaded Indian-head test pattern came on the screen and blocked the show. Then, the 10 words all baby boomers feared most appeared on the screen: PLEASE STAND BY: The trouble is not with your set …
“Do you think it would help if I turned the rabbit ears?” I asked my dad.
“No. It’s ABC. You know how that can be,” my dad answered.
I was crestfallen. I had been looking forward to watching the Globetrotters for weeks.
“Here’s a nickel. Go get yourself a candy bar. Maybe it will be back on when you get home,” my dad said kindly.
I ran to the store in record time. When I returned home, Soupy was signing off and the Globetrotters were coming on. I was elated!
The Globetrotters didn’t disappoint. I laughed heartily at the comic routines — Goose kicking a “field goal” through the basket like a football, and Marques Haynes magically dribbling the ball and sliding along the floor while members of the opposing Washington Generals chased after him.
For many weeks after the television broadcast, young boys in Port William, like most young boys across the nation, I suspect, tried to emulate the Globetrotters. We dribbled the basketball between our legs, threw passes behind our backs, and whistled “Sweet Georgia Brown’” when we warmed up.
My family has seen the Globetrotters three times in person: Once at the Nutter Center when our son, Greg, was a little boy. Then about six years ago, we took grandson, Jack, to Columbus and saw them at the Schottenstein Center.
Last week, our whole family went to Rupp Arena in Lexington to see them, and we all laughed as hard as I did 63 years ago.
Jack Haley was in heaven when the Globetrotter hit the “four-pointers” beyond half court, or stuffed the basketball up the referee’s shirt. The routines and comedy remain clean, wholesome, and just what a family needs particularly in this day and age.
The Washington Generals play against the Globetrotters every afternoon or evening, and they lose. According to a recent article, the Generals endure tricks. They play the clown. Then, they walk off the court, losers. Again.
The Generals new coach, Sam Worthen, has a message for the folks who come to watch the usual Globetrotter hijinks: the half-court heaves and the passing-drill warm-ups, the confetti ice-bucket tricks, the dribbling wizardry, and always, the winning scoreboard at the end.
“We want people to know that we are serious about beating the Globetrotters,” said Worthen. “Serious as a tax audit.”
Worthen might want to be careful what he wishes for. The Generals, coached by Louis “Red” Klotz, had a 2,495-game losing streak. In fact, between 1952-2015, the Generals lost more than 17,000 times to the Globetrotters.
One morning in Martin, Tennessee, Curly Neal, the Globetrotters dribbling wizard, woke up sick. The Globetrotters showed up at the old fieldhouse, but without Curly they had to tone down the “joke” aspect of the game, and play seriously.
The Generals were playing the best ball of their lives. By the time the Globetrotters realized it, they were trailing by 12 points late in the game. Finally, the Globetrotters mounted a furious comeback and took a 99-98 lead with only a few seconds left.
“Red” Klotz was 50 years old. He hoisted-up a two-handed set shot. It went in. The Generals won! The crowd booed. Children cried. Meadowlark Lemon didn’t speak to Klotz for months.
And Frank Sinatra sang:
“Here’s to those who drink their dinners,
When that lady doesn’t show …
To the girl who’ll wait for kisses,
Underneath that mistletoe …
Here’s to the losers! Bless ’em all.”
And with apologies to Casey” “Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright, the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout amen, But there is no joy in Lexington — the poor Generals lost again.”
Here’s to the losers! Bless ’em all.
Pat Haley is a former Clinton County Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.