It had probably been at least 25 years since I’d last seen the Harlem Globetrotters, who made their annual trip to Central Arkansas last Sunday (as well as adding a new stopover in Hot Springs on Tuesday). This seemed a good chance to take our toddler, Scott (closing in on 2), to an event he actually might watch.
Scott loves “bicketball,” as he calls it, loves trying to dunk on his new Fisher-Price adjustable goal, and even will watch a few minutes of the “Piggabacks” on TV (frankly, that’s all we can stand, too, lately). From the looks of the crowd of 5,000 on Sunday at Alltel Arena, a lot of parents were having the same thoughts as I was, carrying all ages of children to the show. Globetrotter T-shirts were worn everywhere, and the kids and parents oo’d and ah’d.
Today, it’s “Showbiz” Jackson doing the act that first Meadowlark Lemon and then Geese Ausbie perfected during my youth (and, I guess, Goose Tatum before them) – though he never did make a half-court shot, he gave the microphone a workout cracking wise with the fans and referee and the hapless opponents, now the New York Nationals instead of the woebogone Washington Generals (but what’s in a name, really). The Nationals could have been recruited from the gym at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, for all we knew.
“Sweet Georgia Brown” and the red, white and blue striped uniforms, and the football skit, and the waterbucket filled with paper and thrown on the fans are all still part of the show. But today’s Globetrotter show also resembles what goes on at hockey, pro basketball and baseball games: kids in bike races and relays, T-shirts being thrown into the stands, and now an acrobatic team. In fact, while it was hard to keep young Scott focused on the goal and the certain-to-come slam dunks (half the Trotters’ baskets were dunks, and most of them by Michael “Wildman” Wilson from Memphis), the young acrobats with their jump-rope routine and a human pyramid fascinated him and all the other youngsters.
So did the endless march up and down the aisle of the boys carrying funnel cakes, cotton candy and sno-cones, though fortunately for me, we haven’t reached the stage yet where Scott holds me hostage until he gets one of each. We tried the funnel cake, and Dad ended up eating most of it. (Suggestion for Michael Marion and Alltel: For an event where parents are going to have kids in their laps for two hours, send the Coke boys up and down the aisles, too).
While youngsters were no doubt experiencing something they’ll never forget, I couldn’t help thinking how much it had changed for me, or for my father when he first took me to the Globetrotters’ show. In my dad’s younger days, seeing 12 black men doing unusual things with the basketball was quite a novelty when most of college basketball and the pros was still a white-dominated sport. Today, the Globetrotters’ novelty is to dress out a lanky Asian nicknamed “the Shark” to spice up the lineup (before that, it was to add a woman to the roster).
Somehow, though, the Globetrotters have succeeded in keeping it fun and interesting for 78 years. Here’s hoping more generations of kids can enjoy them.
Alltel general manager Michael Marion said attendance for the Trotters was up 25 percent from last year, to 5,000 people. Entertainment at Alltel in general is picking up interest, he said, crediting an improved economy.
“The last two months, we’ve seen an increase in ticket sales,” Marion said. “Toby Keith (Jan. 23) is selling well, Kid Rock (Feb. 20) is selling well. Evanescence sold well and the tennis match (Andre Agassi vs. Andy Roddick) was a big success.
“Compared to last spring and last summer, people are feeling a little more comfortable buying entertainment.”
Marion was initially concerned that the Globetrotters’ also booking an event in Hot Springs two days after appearing at Alltel would hurt “but it didn’t matter,” he said.
“It was just as expected, just a good fun show,” said Marion, who spent most of Sunday afternoon traversing the concourse in his GM duties. “Manny Jackson [Globetrotters owner], I’ll give him credit for continuing a good, solid product. It seldom disappoints.”
Marion said he might have to plan a day off next year when the Globetrotters come through. He’s got his own youngster, 7-year-old Jonah Marion, to enjoy the show with.
The Kid Rock show got an additional boost this week with the addition of Puddle of Mudd to the lineup as the opening act on Feb. 20. Blake Shelton is the opener for country star Toby Keith next Friday, Jan. 23.
Also on the Alltel concert lineup is Linkin Park on Feb. 27, with a solid opening lineup of Hoobastank, P.O.D. and Story of the Year.
This weekend, Alltel shifts gears with the U.S. Hot Rod Association Monster Trucks, making its first trip back to the arena in two years, on Friday and Saturday. Then, in comes Barney on Tuesday for a two-day show for the kids, at 7 p.m. both days. Call Ticketmaster at 975-7575 on all these events.