The Harlem Globetrotters are so associated with the 1970s, they could have ended up in flea-market bins beside fondue pots, Saturday Night Fever soundtracks, and Pet Rocks. But they're what historians refer to as, er, timeless; they've existed since 1926, and likely will continue well into the next millennium. No need to rework the 'Trotters for the modern audience, a la platform shoes or John Travolta, even if, to our generation's minds, the Clown Princes of Basketball will forever be named Meadowlark and Curly. Face it: Striped knee socks, Chuck Taylors, slam-dunking, between-the-legs passing, and dumping buckets full of confetti on opponents and audience members is just classic shtick. The opponents might change -- the Washington Generals were retired in 1995, replaced by the New York Nationals -- but the joke remains the shameless same.
Jump high and carry a big shtick.
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This ain't about wins, but grins: The Harlem Globetrotters have lost a few games here and there -- 332 times out of 20,000 games, which makes them the exact opposite of the Dallas Mavericks of the 1990s -- but that's not the point. After all this time, it remains vaudeville on the hardwood -- the Marx Brothers in A Night at the All-Star Game. Globetrotters are superb basketball players; throughout the team's existence, many on the roster have turned down offers to play in the NBA, and some have postponed league careers, most notably Wilt Chamberlain and ABA legend Connie Hawkins. (Former Maryland standout Exree Hipp is on the team's current roster.) But they also must be showmen, skilled in improv and slapstick, which made them ideal hosts for their own variety show (The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine) and Hanna-Barbera cartoon show in the '70s.
The Globetrotters' gimmick is universal: They've visited 115 countries, with celebrities and world leaders among their honorary players (basketball skills aren't required, though Whoopie Goldberg, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would look better trying to move the ball down the court in the Globetrotters' signature red-white-and-blue uniforms than Bob Hope, Henry Kissinger, and Nelson Mandela). To guarantee the team's eternal popularity, owner Mannie Jackson (a former Globetrotter himself) has offered free lifetime passes to every child born in the year 2000. Takes a lot of, ahem, goof balls.