"You make good time on these roads," Marques Haynes said. "Clear, quiet. Not a whole lot of traffic. Not like years ago when I first came down here with the Harlem Globetrotters, late '40s, early '50s. It was all single-lane then. Narrow roads, lots of curves, hills and little towns. Get behind one of those big trucks and you'd drive for miles before you could pass 'em. At 35 miles an hour!"
In fact, at the moment, Haynes was steering the bus around a diesel chugging along in the right lane, just as smoothly as he moved around a pick at the top of the key. Both hands on the wheel, his wiry 6-foot frame erect in the driver's seat, he eased the bus on down into Georgia.
Marques Haynes was on the road again, just as he has been every season since he left Langston nearly 40 years ago. He won't admit to his exact age—"I'm 37½ and holding," the man says—but he figures to be 60 or thereabouts, assuming he was 21 when he graduated from Langston in '46. That was about 12,000 basketball games ago, Haynes estimates, played during an odyssey of more than four million miles with the Globetrotters (1947-53); the original Harlem Magicians ('53-72); the Globetrotters again ('72-79); Meadowlark Lemon's Bucketeers ('79-81); the Harlem Wizards ('81-83); and finally his own Harlem Magicians again. It is an odyssey that has taken him to 97 countries and to so many American cities, towns and hamlets that he is hard put, glancing at a map, to find a place he hasn't been.
From desolate, snow-covered Butte, Mont, to an ice show in San Remo, Italy with King Farouk of Egypt. From a Thanksgiving dinner of French fries and hamburgers at a greasy spoon in Betsy Layne, Ky. to a cocktail party at the villa of Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan outside Nice. From a rain-soaked soccer stadium in Munich, where he dribbled with one hand and carried an umbrella in the other, to Pope Pius XII's summer home at Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope clapped his hands and exclaimed, "Wonderful! Beautiful!" as the Globies played tricks with the ball—His Holiness, robed in white vestments, tapping a foot to Sweet Georgia Brown.
From then to now.
"Haynes!" The mild bass bellow belonged to 46-year-old Mel Davis, a former Globetrotter himself, who was burning incense and sitting in the middle of the Magicians' bus. It was 2:21 a.m.
"You all right?" asked Davis.
"I'm doin' it!" Haynes said. "I'm doin' it!"
On this night, in fact, he had done it again. The Harlem Magicians had just played a game against a team of locals before 118 souls in a dimly lit gym at the Charleston Air Force Base. The Magicians had been on the road since the early fall, crisscrossing the Midwest before heading east and playing what gyms they could book along the way.
The tour, which will end in June in either Europe or West Africa, had meandered from Texas north through Nebraska and the Dakotas, across the Mississippi into Illinois and Indiana, up into New Hampshire and Massachusetts, down the East Coast and on to Puerto Rico and Guantánamo Bay. Now the Magicians were navigating the Southeast, dressing out of metal lockers that go clang in the night and playing before small crowds under mercury-vapor lamps whose light turns brown skin a light olive green.