Your first reaction to the news that the Harlem Globetrotters are considering playing Purdue might be, Will Boilermakers coach Gene Keady's hair look better with a bucket of confetti thrown on it? Last week's announcement that the Globetrotters will soon play without shenanigans against a dozen or so Division I college programs, possibly including Purdue, raises another fundamental question: Just how good are the guys in the red, white and blue without their old ball-on-the-rubber-band trick?
The answer: probably better than you'd expect. Though their most notable victory in serious competition came in 1948, when they beat the George Mikan-led world champion Minneapolis Lakers 61-59, the Globies have fared well in a few recent trick-free outings. In '95 they went 10-1 against a barnstorming team of former NBA players, including a 48-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and in '97 and '99 they won all six games they played against college all-star teams featuring a total of 10 future NBA first-round draft picks.
Under a three-year deal with the National Association of Basketball Coaches that was signed on Jan. 1, the Globetrotters will play 10 to 15 games against NCAA teams in the 2000-01 preseason and another game against college all-stars during Final Four weekend. College coaches have long sought to upgrade the quality of their preseason opponents, and Globetrotters owner Mannie Jackson has wanted to show off his players' skills. "The allure of playing at the Final Four is that it puts us back in mainstream basketball," says Jackson, who hopes his team's new deal is just the beginning of an ascent in the basketball hierarchy. "The ultimate payoff will be in another year or so, when we can schedule some national teams and top international club teams, and eventually play in the world club championship."
That might sound like lofty talk for a team whose biggest names are former Maryland stars Exree Hipp and Johnny Rhodes. But Jackson points out that though the Trotters play almost nightly, they still find time to practice—not rehearse—for an hour and a half per day. "They go hard, just like you'd see at a Celtics practice," he says. "These guys are together 250 days a year without any distractions."
That cohesiveness, plus the Globies' athleticism—Michael (Wild Thing) Wilson can dunk on a basket II' II" high—could make beating the Trotters a taller order than a college team might expect. "All basketball players think they're a little better than they are," says Jackson, "but I think we're one of the 25 best teams in the world."