With a history spanning 87 years, the Harlem Globetrotters are one of the world’s best-known basketball teams. On Thursday October 25, they’re back in Dubai for the first time since 2007, bringing their show to Dubai Tennis Stadium.
An exhibition team, the Globetrotters have, over the years, become better known for the entertainment and comic routines incorporated into each game, rather than the sport itself. Since the team was founded in 1927, they’ve spawned films, cartoon series and television shows. If you’re not familiar with the Globetrotters, you may be familiar with their iconic theme song, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, a catchy jazz-pop piece from the 1920s, re-recorded by Brother Bones in the 1940s as a whistle-and-bone track (find it on YouTube – you won’t be able to stop whistling it afterwards).
The action in Dubai will be limited to the court, where they’ll be facing off against eternal losers the Washington Generals in a game that will combine the usual brand of theatre and comedy, but also real, exciting and skilful athleticism.
It’s the first time the team will play in Dubai with Jonte ‘Too Tall’ Hall – the shortest player in the Globetrotters’ history, at an impressive 5ft 2in. ‘I’m very excited – it’s my first time in Dubai,’ the American player enthuses as we catch up ahead of the team’s UAE run, which also takes place in Abu Dhabi. He explains that this tour is going to be different from anything they’ve done in the past. ‘This year, for the first time, you guys write the rules. It can be anything, from playing with two basketballs at once, getting double the points for each basket – you name it.’
Theatrics aside, the Globetrotters have been home to a number of NBA greats in the past, including Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain, Connie ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins, Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton and many others.
Hall previously played with his now-opponents the Generals for a year and a half before getting the call to try out for the Globetrotters – a team he said he always wanted to play for from a young age, despite most kids dreaming of NBA fame. ‘I just wanted to change the world. Being a Globetrotter, I feel that’s what I’m doing. Being 5ft 2in and the shortest Globetrotter in history, I’m inspiring a lot of kids who aren’t fortunate to be tall, and I’m giving them hope. That means a lot to me.’
When the phone finally rang for him, after trying out against about 30 other players, it was ‘a dream come true’. ‘Oh man, I’ll never forget it. I tried out in August, and they called me the day after. They said, “Jonte, you’re a Harlem Globetrotter.” I started getting emotional, my mum got emotional…’ he tails off.
Coincidentally, he shares the court with British player Paul ‘Tiny’ Sturgess (or Tall Paul as he’s known at home in England), the tallest player in Globetrotter history at a mighty 7ft 8in. While Sturgess’s signature move is described as a ‘no-jump dunk’, Hall describes dribbling as being among his own best moves on the court, with ‘four-point’ shooting another strength. You won’t find this particular scoring system in the NBA, but as the Globetrotters are credited with introducing the three-point shot to professional basketball, who knows what the future may hold in the pro leagues?
At Globetrotters games, there are four designated four-point spots on the court from which players can shoot, each 35ft from the basket – 12ft beyond the NBA three-point line. It’s a tough shot.
And the catch? Four-point shots are only available during the final three minutes of each quarter.
So despite the fact his teammates at the Generals used to pick on him and call him ‘baby’, Hall must have been doing something right to be picked up by the Globetrotters, and has ended up, as he puts it, ‘livin’ my dream’.
Expect anything but plain basketball from the ’Trotters next weekend – think a mix of high-flying streetball-style hoops and vaudevillian comedy – but don’t blame us if you’re whistling ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’
for weeks to come.
Dhs75 (upper gallery), Dhs150 (lower gallery), Dhs250 (gold), Dhs350 (courtsid). Shows Thursday October 25 7pm, Friday 26 2pm and 7pm. Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud, www.timeouttickets.com.