Although it is comedy and not quality that packs the houses, management boasts that it never looks for potential entertainers, but seeks out the best players (with big hands). Anyway, whatever it is that perpetuates this policy of delusion, the Globetrotters remain invincible in Globetrotterland.
"We're not good enough to beat them one time out of 10 even if we played them straight basketball," says Jimmy Hebron, the little Opposition playmaker from Wilmington ( N.C.) College. The principal concern is that the Globies will win too easily. "They lay down on us, it doesn't look as good," Meadowlark Lemon says. The ideal working spread is considered to be about 10 or 15 points.
Most of the Opposition were run-of-the-mill small-college heroes recruited by word of mouth. In their station and outlook, they most resemble stewardesses. They are single, only recently out of college, perform a necessary simple service and like the idea of traveling for a while and meeting people. Although nearly all of the Opposition are you-alls, race seems less of a differential between them and the Globetrotters than age.
There are a few exceptions. Sam Sawyer, a rock from Atlantic City, has been guarding Meadowlark for so long that he has been put on the Globetrotter payroll. Jim Boyle, who headed the New York Nationals in Europe last summer, has been losing for six full years, or since he graduated from Temple. And Red Klotz, who owns one Opposition franchise, is going on 52 and still playing. Klotz averaged 1.4 points in 11 games with the Baltimore Bullets in the year of our Lord 1948 and since then has lost so regularly to the Globies that some people believe he is a running character. A man came up to him not long ago and asked, "Are you the original Red Klotz?"
Actually, Klotz takes his job seriously, ranting and raving at his team during halftimes. After all, the Opposition is not supposed to try to lose. However, since it must stand still for so many show baskets—upwards of 20 a game—there is, as Jim Boyle wryly noted, "only a random chance" that the Opposition can possibly win. It last happened on Jan. 5, 1971 in Martin, Term.
The Opposition is made to feel part of the show, though. Smith, the Globie second-year man, says opponents as well as teammates would chastise him if he shot at the wrong time. "Nobody on the Globetrotters is ever condescending to us," says Denny Walsh, who played at Providence and is probably the best Opposition player. "They accept us for what our job is."
It does not take long to learn to play against the Globies. They have three positions. The Showman—Meadow or Geese—is in the hole. He plays with his back to the basket, and so to guard him you stay behind him and wave your arms a lot. The second position is cornerman—now a generic term in all basketball for forward but originally Globie terminology for their rebounder-dunker. The prototypes are Jumpin' Jackie Jackson (Jack-Jack) who, it is said, could pick a quarter off the top of a backboard and give you change, and Theodis Lee (Wolfman or Louisiana Red), who played at Houston with Elvin Hayes. You guard the cornerman by getting tangle-footed and staying clear as he cuts cleverly past for the slam dunk. Finally, there are the three floormen, or running men, who play out front on the team's three-man weave. You guard a floorman on the weave by keeping up with the flow but staying just behind your man. The hardest thing of all to do, the Opposition agrees, is to guard old Marques Haynes in his dribbling routine.
It is somehow most appropriate that Haynes has returned to play with the Globies. While Meadowlark is the star, the precise little gentleman with the trim little mustache is the spirit of the enterprise. "A great man," Branch calls him, and is done with it. Goose is dead and Inman Jackson is dead, Abe is dead and Sweetwater is pushing a hack, but Marques is back and dribbling, the same thing he has been doing since "the early "40s"—the only solid hint he ever provides to measure his timelessness.
Curly Neal, the popular shaven-head, had become the big dribbling star in Marques' absence, but, Lemon says, "Marques is the best, as old as he is, the best in the business." Neal performs a 17-second routine, carefully choreographed, every game. After 30 years Marques still ad libs every night. Once, in his prime, he dribbled a whole quarter away in Chihuahua, Mexico.
For a long time there was only one Marques in all the world, but now there are several because many of his associates have named their sons after him. Divorced, he has two daughters, one just married, the other a pretty 11-year-old named Marquetta who traveled with him last summer. Haynes still keeps a house down near his old hometown, Sand Springs, Okla., as well as an apartment in Manhattan, where he owns a new fashion house. Biella Ltd., the first major black-owned firm on Seventh Avenue. His life savings are in Biella—"I put all 30 years into this, sink or swim"—and the first line came out this fall.