SI Vault
Edited by Jack McCallum And Kostya Kennedy
September 25, 1995
A Different Race for Sir Roger
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September 25, 1995


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Name Game Addendum
We thought we had covered the essential couplets in last week's item on baseball namemates until an alert reader called with a tasty omission. The ingredients for a blue (home) plate special in the early 1940s were catcher Herman Franks and umpire John "Beans" Reardon.

Kareeming the Trotters

During a 20-year NBA career that produced more than 38,000 points and six championship rings, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suffered neither fools nor foolishness gladly. It is not hard to imagine what the begoggled master thought over the years of the Harlem Globetrotters, with all their confetti-in-the-water-pail and ball-attached-to-the-string stuff that conjured up Stepin Fetchit. What an odd sight it was last week, then, when the 48-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, looking not at all like Red Klotz, led a touring band, most of them former NBA players, onto the court at Vienna City Arena to play what is being called a "reinvented" version of the Globetrotters.

Predictably, Kareem was a most uncooperative second banana. Showing the type of competitive attitude he used to reserve for, say, Robert Parish, he made 15 of 16 shots from the floor and scored 34 points to lead the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar All-Stars to a 91-85 victory over the Trotters, thus ending—let's see—an 8,829-game winning streak dating back to 1971.

At game's end there were two relevant questions: What in the name of the Washington Generals is Abdul-Jabbar doing? And what in the name of Meadowlark Lemon are the Globies doing? Both the sky-hooking legend and the merrymaking legends seem out of their element.

Befitting his personality, Abdul-Jabbar was moody and intense on and off the court last week. He also seemed slightly scornful of the Trotters, against whom he will be competing during a monthlong, 10-city European tour. At a press conference before the game in Vienna, he sat silent and glowering beside the breezy Mannie Jackson, the Globetrotters' new owner-general manager, suggesting one of those wacky Don King affairs at which a dour boxer sits almost mute while King testifies from his soapbox. Asked if he was having fun on the tour, Abdul-Jabbar said, "If I ever get over the jet lag, I'll probably enjoy it." He also complained about the tour's exhausting pace and the fact that his team (which includes former NBA All-Stars Nate Archibald, Artis Gilmore, Dan Roundfield and JoJo White) had little time to practice together. Nobody held a gun to your head when you signed on to play, big fella.

The Trotters, meanwhile, have embarked on a more traditional approach, forsaking many of their routines for straight basketball. Jackson hopes to capitalize on the popularity of the NBA in Europe by replacing the hapless Washington Generals with serious players already known to the audience. But the Vienna game was grim, almost uncomfortably intense, and the fans seemed subdued, puzzled and impatient. They came to see pies in the face and got blood in the trenches.

Afterward, Jackson was clearly concerned that the hybrid concoction of serious basketball and Trotter merrymaking wasn't working. And Kareem may be the wrong man to make it right.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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