Behind the scenes with the Harlem Globetrotters

Behind the scenes with the Harlem Globetrotters

(Courtesy of Harlem Globetrotters)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Harlem Globetrotters are world-renowned for their basketball tricks, dunks and interactive games, and one player gave an inside look at being on the team.

The Harlem Globetrotters formed in Chicago in 1926 and were first known as the Savoy Big Five as part of a promotion for the Savoy Ballroom nightclub, according to the Harlem Globetrotters' website. The team has since played thousands of basketball games, set several Guinness World Records and performed in 120 countries and territories on six continents.

Harlem Globetrotters player Julian"Zeus" McClurkin became a rookie on the team in 2014. However, McClurkin said he wasn’t always a basketball player. The Columbus, Ohio-native was actually cut from basketball teams each year from seventh to 10th grade. He finally made it on the team during his junior and senior years in high school.

“The summer of 10th grade, I drank a lot of milk and I ended up growing 5 inches,” McClurkin said, laughing. “I finally made my first basketball team.”

After high school, McClurkin went on to play college basketball for several years before being recruited to play internationally in Asuncion, Paraguay. However, McClurkin said he didn’t enjoy playing internationally because he was expected to average 30 points and 15 rebounds a game and while he could do it, he said it didn’t fit his personality.

“I was a happy-go-lucky kid who really enjoyed playing basketball, but I didn’t like the meanness, the toughness, that everybody said you have to have,” he said. “I never changed that about my game and it was frowned upon by a lot of my coaches and teammates. But, now today, the irony is I actually get paid to smile and dunk, which is what I’ve always loved to do.”

McClurkin was recruited to the Harlem Globetrotters after he played against them in 2011. He had played for the rival Washington Generals at the time, a team that last beat the Globetrotters in 1971. The Harlem Globetrotters will again play the Washington Generals Feb. 2 at EnergySolutions Arena as part of the 2015 Washington Generals’ Revenge World Tour.

I was a happy-go-lucky kid who really enjoyed playing basketball, but I didn't like the meanness, the toughness, that everybody said you have to have... But, now today, the irony is I actually get paid to smile and dunk, which is what I've always loved to do.

–Julian "Zeus" McClurkin, Harlem Globetrotter

McClurkin said most of the Harlem Globetrotters had their basketball skill set before joining the team, but several retired players will often visit and teach them new skills to improve the show.

“It’s really a family unit here,” he said of the team. “No trick is a dumb trick or a dumb idea when it comes to practice. A lot of our shows come from trial and error and we find out what’s funny and what’s not. If it’s funny, we’ll do it again. … It doesn’t matter how many points you score as long as you put smiles on the people’s faces. Now, that’s how I quantify how great a basketball player I am.”

McClurkin said the team has 30 full-time players that split into three separate units — the red, white and blue teams that cover the Eastern U.S., the Western U.S. and Europe at the same time. McClurkin said he’s known for his dunking and he’s developed a signature “Rock the Cradle” dunk. On the team, he said he’s known as Zeus “because when I dunk the ball, it sounds like thunder.”

In addition to the highly anticipated matchup against the Washington Generals, the Globetrotters are also honoring a “Hometown Hero” at each of their 310 games across North America, McClurkin said. Each community can nominate an active, wounded or retired member of the military who will be honored during the game in their location.

Nominations can be made by clicking here. The Harlem Globetrotters' game against the Washington Generals will be held Monday at 7 p.m.


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Faith Heaton Jolley


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