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INSPIRATIONAL SLAM-DUNK HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS MOTIVATE KIDS TO GET FIT.

Byline: Valerie Kuklenski Staff Writer

ANTHONY BLAKES has a couple of piercings in his left earlobe. Maybe he normally wears a chunky diamond or two, as do many well-paid athletes, but not so one day last week.

It's not that he has an aversion to flashy attire; he had stepped out in a red warm-up suit with blue and white stars and his team name emblazoned on the back, with matching red and white basketball shoes.

The 6-foot-2 guard is very mindful of the image he projects as an ambassador for the Harlem Globetrotters, on tour nationwide in the team's 80th season.

In a sun-splashed amphitheater at the Kidspace Children's Museum in Pasadena, Blakes and two teammates, guards Eathan O'Bryant and Barry ``High Rise'' Hardy, were doing their motivational thing for about 150 grade-schoolers. The message was much less about the team's Presidents Day game at Staples Center than it was about the President's Council on Physical Fitness.

Blakes, who joined the team four years ago, not long after graduation from the University of Wyoming, said he didn't know what he was getting into.

``I didn't know it would be a lot more than basketball. It was about being an all-around great person, being an ambassador, being a positive role model.

``I'm not only entertaining people on the court but getting out into the community and touching people with our Globetrotter experience and the elaborate history of the Globetrotters and the things that they accomplished,'' said Blakes, 29.

At the start of their field trip, these kids - mainly fourth-graders - apparently didn't know the three players by name and may not have known of the team, since NBA greats like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal have commanded their attention and adoration.

But it's certain that the African-American NBA stars of the past 50 years owe their success to the Globetrotters, whose Nat ``Sweetwater'' Clifton broke the league's color barrier in 1950. Some say the National Basketball Association itself would not have survived its early years without the touring ``clown kings'' of the court attracting so many fans to the game.

O'Bryant commanded the audience's attention throughout a program based on the Globetrotters' C.H.E.E.R. mantra: Cooperation; Healthy mind, healthy body; Effort; Enthusiasm; and Responsibility.

Many motivational buzz phrases were there - ``There's no I in team,'' for instance. What really got the crowd revved up was O'Bryant's promise of cash and other perks if all the boys and all the girls, working in two teams, successfully imitated his clapping patterns. They couldn't, of course, because he tricked them with his ``half claps.''

The kids' disappointment was short-lived, though. The players soon gathered a few volunteers for their famous ``magic circle'' - the pregame warm-up that showcases the Globetrotters' outlandish ball-handling gimmicks. Cue the ``Sweet Georgia Brown'' whistler. Around the waist once, easy enough. Under the leg, still doable. Roll the ball around the encircled arms twice, then bounce it hard and catch it at the nape of the neck ... best leave that one to the pros.

It no longer mattered that these were not the stars of their bedroom posters or the endorsers of their favorite shoe brands. The kids were charmed and swarmed for autographs, just as spectators have since the early years when the Globetrotters had to spice up their play with antics because their victories were so lopsided.

``These kids won't forget this for the rest of their lives,'' O'Bryant said later. ``If they didn't know the Globetrotters before today, then they know the Globetrotters now and from this point on. And I guarantee you when they grow up and have families of their own, they'll talk about this day and the three Globetrotters that came to them and talked to them and showed them some ball handling and a little magic.''

In a season when the Lakers' Bryant scores an astonishing 81 points in one night, it's hard even for fans to remember that basketball is just a game.

``I think any time you play a sport which is a game, you gotta have fun doing it,'' said O'Bryant, 33. ``And these kids need to see grown-ups enjoying themselves and having a good time doing what they do. Basketball can't be all serious.

``I guarantee you, I've played in thousands of basketball games as a Globetrotter, and I can't remember the final score of any game, because that's not what's important. What's important is us going out there and having a good time and making sure every single person who walks out of there was having a great time,'' O'Bryant said. ``Regardless of what the score says, everyone comes out a winner when that happens.''

The Globetrotters always have been about great basketball and are credited with pioneering moves that have since been adopted by mainstream teams, including the no-look pass and the hook shot. But they probably are more famous for their clownish behavior, even while the game clock is ticking.

``It's definitely a mental adjustment because if I'd tried to throw a bucket of water or confetti in the crowd at (University of) Nevada, I'd have been kicked out of the conference,'' O'Bryant said. ``When you're a kid these days in college, you're taught to win, win, win at all costs. It's programmed into you.

``So to all of a sudden have to flip that switch and say, wait a minute, it's not about win, win, win, it's about having fun, it's about entertaining and you can never stop entertaining throughout the course of the Globetrotter game, it's definitely a mental adjustment for every guy. But I think once you make that adjustment, it's smooth sailing.''

Hardy, 37, admits it was a childhood fantasy of his to be a Globetrotter, even though he never attended a game in person.

``I used to go in the backyard and pretend that I was a Globetrotter playing with Curly Neal and Geese Ausbie and Meadowlark (Lemon) and those guys,'' he said. ``I used to act like I was passing it to them. And now I'm actually living that dream.''

Hardy's advice to children who would like to follow in his footsteps is to work hard at the fundamentals - the chest pass, catching the ball, dribbling with your head up. All the gimmicks, from fake-outs and between-the-legs passes to poking fun at a referee, are taught at Globetrotters training camp.

A sense of humor also helps, not only in being an entertainer but in coping with the intense tour schedule - 243 games in five months throughout North America. That's a lot of togetherness in buses, hotels, locker rooms and courts. ``If you don't have a sense of humor riding with a group of guys that will become your family ... it can wear you down, physically and mentally,'' Hardy said.

So how do they keep up that C.H.E.E.R. attitude they encourage kids to adopt?

``The energy actually comes from each other, it comes from knowing the history of the Globetrotters, it comes from the fans,'' Hardy said. ``You never know when it's a person's first time seeing the Harlem Globetrotters, and you want to make it a memorable moment.''

Valerie Kuklenski, (818) 713-3750

valerie.kuklenski(at)dailynews.com

THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS

Where: Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim and Staples Center, Los Angeles.

When: 2 p.m. doubleheader against the New York Nationals on Saturday (Arrowhead) and 1 p.m. game Monday (Staples).

Tickets: $15 to $130. (213) 480-3232; www.ticketmaster.com.

FOR MORE INFO

Additional information about the Harlem Globetrotters can be found at the team's Web site, www.harlemglobetrotters.com. The club also has produced a documentary about the organization's history, highlighting its impact on international relations, titled ``Harlem Globetrotters: The Team That Changed the World.'' The DVD, narrated by rapper Chuck D, is available through the team site and on www.amazon.com.

Play with the 'Trotters

Kids can learn some of those ``magic circle'' moves and other hoops pointers at the Harlem Globetrotters' summer camp, June 26-30 at Montclair Prep High School, 8071 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys. Boys and girls ages 6 to 16 can sign up for morning or afternoon programs. The $185 fee includes a T-shirt, camp photo, a mini Globetrotters basketball and a Globetrotters team picture. For more information or an application, follow the summer camps link on www.harlemglobetrotters.com, or call (800) 641-4667, Ext. 300.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Putting their SPIN on things

Life lessons for kids from Harlem Globetrotters

(2 -- color) Harlem Globetrotter Barry Hardy teaches Joycelyn Jimenez a ball-handling trick, emphasizing the team's message of fitness and fun.

(3 -- 4 -- color) Clockwise from above, fourth-graders try the Globetrotters' clapping pattern, Anthony Blakes helps kids spin the ball, and Barry Hardy shows off his skills.

(5 -- color) no caption (boys clapping)

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

Box:

(1) FOR MORE INFORMATION (see text)

(2) Play with the `Trotters (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 16, 2006
Words:1489
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