With a convex body of Shaq-like dimensions (7'1", 300 pounds), Sacramento rookie Jerome James knew that staying in shape during the lockout was going to be crucial. But the second-round draft pick from Florida A&M never thought his off-season conditioning regimen would entail throwing buckets of confetti and de-pantsing opponents while playing for basketball's most famous repertory troupe. After arriving at the ultracompetitive Fila Summer Pro League in Southern California, James joined the first team that offered him a uniform: the Harlem Globetrotters. "At first I was like, Huh?" he says. "But it worked out great."
Playing in the league gives the Globetrotters a chance to evaluate players and stay sharp for their nearly endless season. It also gives them a chance to play some real ball, which they did last year, winning the league championship. Then it was time to get down to funny business. When the league ended in late July, the Globetrotters invited James to join their road show. "I couldn't just sit on the couch and watch television," James says, so he signed on for Globetrotter tours of Europe and the U.S.
The frenetic pace of a Globetrotters game was tough on James—few 300-pound players can shine in a game that has an over/under of 320—but he was dominant at times. In a rare shtick-free game against the top Lebanese team, for instance, James had a triple double that included 10 blocked shots.
"Jerome's game just got better and better, and he was a pleasure to have on the team," says Mannie Jackson, the Globetrotters' owner. "Even when he was traveling all the time, playing two games in one day, he never had an NBA attitude."
James wasn't an integral part of the team's comedy routines, but he did develop an effective bit of what vaudevillians used to call "business": He would pick an unsuspecting elderly woman out of the audience, tuck her under his arm and carry her around the court like a loaf of bread.
The Globetrotters released James from his contract when the lockout ended in January and invited him to rejoin them this summer. Although James appreciates the offer, he's doing his best to make sure he has a job locked down before then. Against competition a tad stiffer than the Washington Generals and the Lebanese Nationals, James wasted little time impressing the Sacramento front office. "Jerome still has to get a better feel for the game," says Kings coach Rick Adelman. "But he's got great size, he can score, and he's got good hands." Through Sunday he was averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
Though he was a big fan of the Globetrotters cartoon series when he was a kid, James claims he couldn't even spin a ball on his finger before he joined the team. "I learned a few tricks, but the Globetrotters are about a lot more than that," he says. "It's a very professional organization, and the guys are excellent players who are serious about the game." Still, the first time James tries to give Alonzo Mourning a wedgie or douse Jess Kersey with a bucket of confetti, we'll know where he picked it up.