Monday, July 28, 2008

"They're Playin' Bas-ket-ball " or "Basketball Johnson"

From right to left, Ray Steele, Crystal St. John, Medowlark Lemon, Kenya Cabine and a starry eyed punk.

When I grew up in the Seventies, I had three major heroes in my life, other than Superman. They were Muhammad Ali, Evil Knievel and Medowlark Lemon from the Harlem Globetrotters. The three men were larger than life in their sports, that is you call jumping over Snake River Canyon in a rocket cycle athletic. It was my dream as a kid to one day meet my heroes and while one is living a quiet, private life due to Parkinson's Disease and the other from ironically, kidney failure, the third is still around as The Clown Prince of Basketball.

I had the pleasure of seeing Medowlark Lemon along with other with other former members of the legendary 'Trotters in a charity game for the victims of and families of the Imperial Sugar refinery explosion of last year against local radio and television personalities, fire fighters, clergy and others here in Savannah. Although a serious cause, it turned out to be a very fun event. If you're wondering if I played by the way, sadly I didn't nor couldn't. Although we had others from the radio stations involved, I couldn't due to my stupid kidneys. I would have done anything I could have to at least said I got jammed by a Globetrotter and even threatened to run home, grab my jeans shorts and hi-tops and taken the court. It would have also involve an oxygen tank as soon as I made it to half court as well, so I cheered. For both sides. I wore my station shirt, but underneath I wore my limited edition Harlem Globetrotters long t-shirt from FUBU. I'm sorry but if my brother played for the Washington Generals, I wouldn't root for him either. It's a good thing this game is for a good cause, otherwise I don't know those bums.

Crystal and I working on pregame strategies. By the way, the socks she's wearing are mine, so I was kinda sorta in the game.

Watching Medowlark and the other Harlem All Stars took me back to what most would call "a simpler time", that being childhood, which is never "simple" in the first place. In my day, you were either a fan of the 'Trotters or not. If you were "not", you were hated despised and possibly stoned to death. I was one of the smart ones. I followed the team first on television as I saw their first cartoon show on Saturday Mornings. These guys were so good, they had an old lady driving them around while continuing to dribble a basketball out of a moving vehicle. Plus, all the tricks they did on the cartoon court somehow came to life on the real court, other than going head to head with robots and pirates. Still, if anybody could out shoot, out dribble, out anything the Medowlark and the Globetrotters could do it, even becoming the first African-Americans to have their own Saturday Morning show.

I was very lucky to talk to Mr, Lemon a few times before the game, once when I was entering the Savannah Civic Center and saw the great man signing autographs and got to shake the hand of the man who made my days just a little bit better when I saw him on the black and white screen. He was just a bit older now, but he still had that great smile and that twinkle in his eye that he carried with him around the world. I told him that I was finally blessed to meet him and was humbled by his presence. He told me "thank you", but to me he seemed humbled that so many people still remember those good days and still honor him for all his work.

Later at a reception with all the game players, I was told by the radio station's marketing director that one of our fellow players had decided that since he showed up for practice after he volunteered to play, he'd go home. Truthfully, I was pissed. How dare you agree to do something for charity and then turn around and walk away from it, I told the marketing director. Surprisingly, Medowlark was standing right next to me and overheard what I said. He asked me what was wrong and I explained to him the situation. He looked at me, but his hand on my shoulder and said, "That's okay, man. You're here and that's good enough." There's been moments where I just want to stop being a man and become a boy just once more so if I cry people would understand when the man you look up to let's you know everything is going to be alright. For just a moment, I forgot about something stupid someone else had done and nearly returned to being myself at ten years old seeing my hero in real life at the Civic Center in his prime with all his teammates. Curly, Goose, Marcus, Gator and the rest. It took everything I had to return to being 42 and holding back the mist in my eyes so Medowlark wouldn't see me want to cry.

In all, it was an amazing game. The Savannah team lost, of course but not to worry. They played their best, if not good enough. Okay, let's just they were adequate. The biggest surprise was from the rabbi who got a three point hook shot off Medowlark and even the both of them were shocked it happened. Also, most of the All Stars were former Savannians who graduated from my Alma Mater, Beach High School. In fact one of them, Larry "Gator" Rivers dated my sister Shirley when they both went to the school, which meant I was this close to becoming the brother-in-law of a Harlem Globetrotter and none of you would ever hear the end of it. The best part is money was raised for the victims a horrible tragedy that shouldn't have happened. If the joy and laughter that The Harlem All Stars brought to Savannah with their classic antics made you return to your "simpler time" and made you forget your troubles, then their job is complete.

Did I mention that could have been related to the Globetrotters?

Me and my almost brother-in-law.

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