Harlem Globetrotters Ant Atkinson (12) and Firefly Fisher (3) chase a youngster during the Globetrotters’ 2015 performance at Key Arena in Seattle. Wilson native Atkinson and the Globetrotters will perform at Wilson Gym on March 29, marking their first appearance in Wilson in 19 years.
Harlem Globetrotters’ Scooter Christensen amazes the crowd by spinning the ball on his head. Christensen, a former star player at the University of Montana, holds the Guinness World Record for spinning a basketball on his nose — 7.7 seconds.
By Paul Durham
As their name suggests, the Harlem Globetrotters literally travel around the world, bringing basketball and smiles to millions of their fans annually.
The world-famous “Ambassadors of Goodwill” have appeared in countless arenas, from NBA coliseums to high school gyms, on six continents, but as Globetrotter Scooter Christensen says, “Anywhere there’s a basketball goal, we’re at home.”
But one Globetrotter will be truly at home when the team plays in Barton College’s Wilson Gym on March 29 as part of its aptly named “2017 World Tour.” Anthony Atkinson, the Wilson native who famously led Barton to the NCAA Division II national championship in 2007, will be making his first appearance here as a Globetrotter.
“This has been my dream ever since I’ve been with the Globetrotters,” Atkinson said in a recent telephone interview. “I was in training camp this year and my boss came up to me and said, We’ve got you on the list. … I’ve played in Raleigh and I’ve played in Greenville but this is home.”
Atkinson that he’s not the only one who is excited — so are his teammates.
“They’re looking forward to it,” he assured. “They can’t wait. They really can’t wait. They’re excited for me.”
Christensen, who hails from Las Vegas, said it’s always more fun to play at home.
“Without a doubt, any time you get a chance to play at home, it’s so cool because you’re on the road so much,” he said Wednesday morning in a telephone interview as the team bus traveled from Knoxville, Tennessee to Aiken, South Carolina. “You get to play in front of your mom and dad and your aunties and all the coaches you played for.”
Christensen, who was a star player at the University of Montana, said it’s always fun to perform in small arenas “because the fans are really close.”
And connecting with the fans is what the Globetrotters are all about.
“I have a chance two hours a day to make people smile,” Atkinson said.
This will be the Globetrotters’ first appearance in Wilson since 1998.
There are three versions of the Globetrotters on the road at all times, playing simultaneously. The same night one of the squads is playing in Wilson, another will be wowing fans in Burlington, Vermont, while another will performing in Italy.
With each team playing nearly every day from late December to August, the road can become a grind.
“People see us smiling on the court, but we need help too sometimes. We miss our families and we get tired,” Atkinson said.
But it takes a special person to play for the Globetrotters.
“You can do tricks but if your attitude is not good, you can’t be a Globetrotter,” reminded Christensen.
Atkinson became the first player ever drafted by the Globetrotters shortly after his graduation from Barton in 2007. Christensen took a slightly different route to donning the famous red, white and blue uniform. He was working as a video coordinator for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and got in some action on the court as a practice player. A dazzling ball handler at Montana (where he still ranks second in career assists), Christensen made an impression on one of the opposing players in a pickup game who had connections to the Globetrotters, now based in Phoenix.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.
More than a decade later, he’s one of the veterans on the roster.
Christensen was delighted to learn that two of his all-time favorite players — Michael Jordan and the late Pistol Pete Maravich — had played in Wilson as high school players. Christensen said he learned how to dribble by doing the drills that Maravich did.
“I didn’t know those drills I was doing then, based on him, was setting me up to be a Globetrotter,” he said.
Christensen also holds the Guinness World Record for spinning a basketball on his nose — 7.7 seconds — which he set in 2015. Each season the Globetrotters participate in Guinness World Records Day and this past November, the set nine new marks. Atkinson made the world’s longest basketball shot blindfolded — 73 feet, 10 inches. He teamed with Cheese Chisholm to set the record for 3-pointers made in one minute by a pair (22), while each made 10 3-pointers in one minute with a single ball to tie for another Guinness mark.
Fans in Wilson Gym can expect to see similar tricks as well as pranks, shenanigans and some good, old-fashioned basketball when the Globetrotters come to town.
“If you’ve never seen the Globetrotters, it’s going to be an experience you’ve never had,” promised Christensen.