The Globetrotters Smiling at Work

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Buckets Blakes explains the importance of character to the students of MLK Jr. Elementary School. (Jesse Costa)
Buckets Blakes explains the importance of character to the students of MLK Jr. Elementary School. (Jesse Costa)

What the Harlem Globetrotters do is work.

They travel constantly. Their bus looks comfortable and the outside features great, big grinning players in bright, primary colors, but it's still a bus.

What is magical to their audiences must be hard-earned routine to them. You do not learn to spin a basketball on your finger or balance it on your head or roll it from one shoulder to the other without hundreds of hours of practice. It is the work that makes these tricks seem effortless.

But watching the Globies is pure fun. Being in their presence is a delight that reminds everybody in the building of something that we too often forget: Our games can be a joyful diversion. The show the Globetrotters put on is like that night at the Olympics after the skating competition has ended, when the athletes take to the ice in an exhibition of their skills and their youth and perhaps their relief that this time, if they catch an edge and tumble, nobody will deduct

In part because of what our games have become, and in part because of the nature of the coverage of sports these days, a lot of the stories that used to be about exceptional feats and records challenged and broken are about drugs, injuries, lockouts, and louts. The owner who threatens to move if some city doesn't build him a new stadium, never mind that the city's laying off workers. The player who demands a new contract because his agent has put a hand on his shoulder and whispered something about another player's money.

As the Globetrotter known as "Buckets" told me, "we just want to be the best human beings we can be, each and every day." That's a challenging and complicated goal, but surely somewhere on the list of requirements to achieve it are the willingness to laugh and the ability to inspire laughter…the capacity to delight and an openness to the delight others can inspire. The Globetrotters are not alone in providing fans with those qualities and opportunities. The long run that ends in a dive as the ball disappears into the centerfielder's glove in the shadow of the wall, the pinpoint, impossibly patient passing of a quartet of soccer players…these images likewise temporarily erase the distinction between work and play.

Sometimes my work puts me in the way of that happy circumstance, and it feels like play. May each of you, from time to time, fall into the same good fortune.

This segment aired on March 26, 2011.


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