Harlem Globetrotters @ Izod Center

Saturday, February 16th, 2008 | All Things, Sports

We hopped the special events bus from Port Authority to East Rutherford, New Jersey where we had tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters tonight. The game was taking place at IZOD Center (ne Continental Airlines Arena ne Brendan Byrne Arena), as it will be known for the next five-years under an October 2007 naming rights agreement with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA).

Izod Center

The event was part of “Curly Neal Weekend“; the day before, the Harlem Globetrotters retired the popular player’s #22 jersey in a ceremony at Madison Square Garden. With that, Neal became just the fifth Globetrotter in the team’s 82-year history to have his number retired, joining Wilt Chamberlain (13), Meadowlark Lemon (36), Marques Haynes (20) and Reece “Goose” Tatum (50).

I’ve had a soft spot for the Globetrotters since I was a girl; the Hanna-Barbera animated series (1970-1972) may have predated my time, but I fondly recall their appearances on Scooby Doo and one very special made-for-TV Gilligan’s Island movie. You know: the one where the Globetrotters represent the Castaways in a winner-take-Island basketball game against an evil corporate raider, who is represented by a team of robots? Um, yeah. Though it made for riveting drama in elementary school, I suspect that the movie may not hold up well under repeat viewing.

I don’t know what frame of reference kids today have for these talented ballplayers and their hijinks, but there were plenty of little ones in attendance tonight.

To kick things off, there were the Jabali Acrobats from Mombassa, Kenya: flipping, tumbling, limboing, jumping rope, and creating improbably precarious human pyramids. The troupe returned to entertain at halftime.

Jabali Acrobats

Jabali Acrobats

Globie the mascot, rallying the crowd for the team introductions:

Harlem Globetrotters

Before the game, the Globetrotters thrilled the crowd with their signature circle warm-up, set to to the familiar whistling tune of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” After some rapid passing, the players each took a turn in the center of the circle to show off his impressive ball handling skillz.

Harlem Globetrotters

What to say about the game itself? Over the years, the Globetrotters have played more than 20,000 exhibition games in over 100 countries, mostly against deliberately ineffective teams like the New York Nationals and tonight’s opponents, the Washington Generals. So technically this may have been a competition, but mostly we were there to observe the fun, games, and gags. The Globetrotters are miked during the entire game, so we were treated to running goofy commentary and trash-talking (all very PG, of course), plenty of slam-dunking, ball-spinning, dazzling dribbling, behind the back passing and alley-oops. There were breaks for audience participation and comedy skits; at several points, the game clock continued to tick down even when there was no actual basketball being played on the court. Details, details.

Harlem Globetrotters

The Generals won their last game in 1971, on an overtime basket for a 100-99 score that ended a Globetrotters’ 2,499-game winning streak. No such luck tonight for the battered team. (The crowd was stacked against them from the very first moments: their coach was introduced as a Patriots fan, earning hearty boos in this arena adjacent to Giants Stadium.)

Throughout the evening, the Jumbotron broadcast a commemorative film, “Number 22 Counts Down His Top 22 Moments,” as fans cheered the familiar-looking bald man on the sidelines. I bet B that the Gilligan’s Island movie appearance would be #1; he believed that guesting on Scooby Doo would garner the top spot. Turns out we were both wrong — our picks were #4 and #7, respectively. Neal’s #1 moment was being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame (as a team member) in 2002.

I guess that’s pretty good, too.

Curly Neal

Check out the rest of the game photos on flickr.

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