Ambassador Class

Marques Haynes should be wealthy and celebrated. He was always content just to be the best.

The doubters, who thought the victory was a fluke, were shut up again one year later when the 'Trotters once more beat the Lakers. When the Lakers finally beat the 'Trotters, in February 1950 in Chicago in front of 21,866 fans, the 6-foot-10 Mikan told Time, "This is the next best thing to winning the national championship."

But one of the greatest of all David-and-Goliath basketball stories is little more than a stack of scripts gathering dust on the Sony Pictures lot.

There was almost a Broadway musical, as well: Eight years ago, The New York Times mentioned that choreographer Savion Glover was preparing for Disney's theatrical arm a musical called Hoops, which he described as the studio's attempt "to bring some of the Harlem Globetrotters points of views and lifestyles to the stage." In 1999, it was called Hoops; two years later, it was Ball; in 2004, when a Broadway trade paper reported that it was "still in development," it was called Hoopz. Today, it too is a phantom of a memory.

Haynes actually appeared in two movies: 1951's The Harlem Globetrotters Story and 1954's Go, Man, Go! Dorothy Dandridge made an early screen appearance in the former; Sidney Poitier, in the latter. And, sure, maybe more folks would know Haynes' name if those recent projects had taken root, but he's far from the forgotten man. That would be his teammate Goose Tatum, from whom Meadowlark Lemon stole the whole bag of tricks. If Marques was the Paul McCartney of the 'Trotters in the '40s, all brilliance and finesse, Goose was the team's John Lennon, a force of anger and comedy. At least Haynes is in the Hall, which he revisits each year for the induction ceremonies. Tatum's family has been begging for his induction; Robertson calls Tatum's omission "tragic."

Also tragic, though perhaps less so, is Haynes' lack of a relationship with the 'Trotters, which, Ben Green figures, stems from the little-reported-about 2004 federal lawsuit Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal and a few other famous 'Trotters brought against the team. They accused then-owner Manny Jackson of profiting off jerseys bearing their names and numbers without their authorization and without a single cent in compensation. Jackson, who many say heavily promoted Haynes' longtime association with the team, was stung by the lawsuit and lengthy legal battle (the 'Trotters countersued Lemon) and jury trial in February of this year, after which Lemon was awarded close to $800,000.

Haynes received a small fraction of that— "very, very little," says a friend. No one could deny he was owed something for the use of his name—after all he'd done, after so little he'd received.

"He was raised in a time when they didn't make much money," says friend Donald Boucher, who met Haynes through a mutual acquaintance during his tenure in the Tech president's office. "And he's finding out his lifetime is outliving his income."

Haynes and Saperstein, who died in 1966, used to sue each other all the time, way back when—like in 1953, when Haynes went off and started his own comedy ball club, the Marques Haynes All-Stars. Saperstein had people go to tiny Roy, Utah, one night to seize the $300 Haynes made at the gate.

"This guy [Saperstein] sued me five times," Haynes says. "The judges dismissed it back then and told him, 'Haynes can do what he wants to do.' I told Saperstein a long time ago that he was his own worst enemy. The last time I told him that, he wanted to know why. And I said, 'You made promises to all of us, and you didn't come anywhere close to fulfilling them.'"

So he left to form his own team—the All-Stars, then the Magicians. And he came back for a while in the early '70s. He lived in Las Vegas and New York, where he met his second wife, Joan, a model. He started his own clothing line too—"I was the first black to have a showroom on 7th Avenue"—but says the Mob put him out of business. He was on TV most every Saturday morning, as part of CBS' Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine sketch-comedy variety show, and he lasted till the decade's end. Then he went back to running the Magicians, till he retired and moved to North Texas in 1994 and got into the air filtration business.

Now, he spends his days leisurely—golfing, though not as much as he used to even six months ago; drinking tea; trying to write a book; spending time with his friends. Several years ago, he and Joan also took in her brother's daughter, who will turn 13 in the fall. He still has plenty to keep him occupied—no time for the what-was, not yet.

In the end, perhaps, Haynes' life has only one question mark: What would have happened in 1950 if Saperstein had allowed Haynes to go to the NBA? During his tenure with the 'Trotters, they often played NBA teams—and they drew far more than their white counterparts, then a shadow of a shadow of the league as it exists now. But Saperstein refused to let him go 57 years ago, leaving the door open for the Boston Celtics to draft Duquesne's Charles Cooper, the first black man in the NBA.

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