I recently took my 11-year-old daughter Lily to see the Harlem Globetrotters on their annual visit to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre. I was surprised and secretly delighted that she wanted to attend, as the Globetrotters have always held a storehouse of memories for me, some of which I’ll touch on in a few minutes.
In the meantime, Lily and I had a great time at the game, laughing at all the trick shots and gamesmanship that made fools out of their hapless opponents, the inappropriately named World All-Stars. And it’s worth noting that in the course of that enjoyment we consumed dinner and snacks (on top of what I thought was a relatively hefty ticket price) and excitedly bought a red, white and blue basketball as well as a Globetrotter branded Sharpie in anticipation of what we thought we be the capper to a great evening: A promised opportunity to go down on the hardwood floor and collect photos and signatures of the team’s thrilling players immediately following the game.
Needless to say, that’s not quite what happened. Shortly before the game ended, the court was roped off and, as the final horn sounded, most of the crowd attempted to find the undefined pathway to two unmarked openings to the court. Meanwhile, two of the players were led over to backdrops behind one of the hoops where makeshift lines began to form.
Failing to make our way to the court, Lily and I defaulted to the players behind the hoop. And after about 45 minutes of waiting, Lily worked her way to the front of the line for one photo and autograph opportunity. Here she is dwarfed by Hi-Lite Bruton:
Unfortunately, before we could even line up for another player, team officials were shutting down the lines and hustling the players off the court. Lily was shocked and even remarked that they hadn’t given most of the fans any time at all to spend with the players. And this reminded me of a similar disappointing Globetrotter story from my youth.
I spent most of my childhood growing up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a town of 33,000 people on the shore of Lake Michigan. As Manitowoc was 75 miles north of Milwaukee and 40 miles south of Green Bay, we had limited entertainment options. Yet the Harlem Globetrotters made regular visits to our school gymnasiums and amazed us with their trick shots and team play. This was during the period when star players included Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal and Goose Ausbie, all of whom were featured in the Globetrotters’ Saturday morning cartoon series, trading cards, etc. It was thus a thrill to see them live as we sat in the stands at our YMCA or high school field house.
Naturally, when it was announced that Hallie Bryant, one of the team’s stars, would be appearing to sign autographs at the Mid-Cities Mall the evening before their scheduled game with the New Jersey Generals, it was the talk for days among many of us young basketball fans. When the appointed evening arrived, there was a massive line that stretched from Montgomery Ward at one end of the mall all the way to JC Penney at the opposite end.
As I worked my way up the line toward Hallie, however, I noticed something odd: He was not actually SIGNING autographs. Instead, every fan was being handed an 8-1/2 x 11 photocopy of an old Globetrotter press photo (that strangely included comedian Red Skelton for some reason). Then, as each fan reached the front of the line, Hallie would STAMP his signature on the photo! The poor kid in front of me had brought a basketball along and Hallie even tried unsuccessfully several times to stamp that before sighing and begrudgingly pulling out a Bic pen and signing the ball.
It was a huge letdown. And given our recent experience I have to believe that despite decades of experience, the Harlem Globetrotters have still not figured out the art of delivering what their paying fans crave: An authentic, personal experience that leaves them as thrilled with the meetup as they are with the game. And I’m reminded that even years of practicing successful trick shots can be diminished if you don’t execute in every aspect of customer service.
What Am I Reading?
The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert is a novel that is right in my wheelhouse: Historical fiction that deals with an imaginary World’s Fair in Omaha in the late 1800’s while promising a taste of the fantastic, some sleight-of-hand and a bittersweet romance. Colleen loved this book and highly recommended it, and so far I’m about a third in. It’s everything she promised (if a bit heavy on the romantic yearnings of our protagonist) but still a compelling story.