Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

SPORTS >> Globetrotter has a ball

Hot Shot interacts with the kids at the Little Rock Air Force Base daycare center.

Leader story and photos by Jason King

Harlem Globetrotter Andre “Hot Shot” Branch paid a visit to Little Rock Air Force Base on Friday afternoon to entertain kids and sign autographs at the base daycare center.

Branch, now in his seventh year as a Globetrotter, will also be on hand when the legendary Clown Princes of Basketball take on their archrivals Washington Generals at Verizon Arena on Jan. 20 as part of their 2010 “Magical Memories” world tour.

Branch is a Houston native and a 1995 graduate of Baylor University. He is the sixth-leading scorer at Baylor and holds the school record for career three-pointers with 267, and he is second on the all-time list for three-pointers made in a season with 104.

He received a degree in communications and played minor league basketball oversees until getting the call of a lifetime to don the Globetrotters’ red, white and blue in 2004.

Branch made the grade in a succession of camps the Globetrotters use to develop talent, and earned a place alongside such notables as Kevin “Special K” Daley, who is now in his fifth year as a Globetrotter, and Wun “The Shot” Verser, the elder statesman of active players.

Branch began his visit to the base by giving the children a brief history of the 84-year-old Globetrotters before volunteering some members of the audience to participate in ball-handling drills, which mostly consisted of a no-dribble figure eight. He then enlisted the kids into a silly dance, getting them to shake their hips and wave their hands in the air.

Branch went on to demonstrate ball-handling abilities and command of some of the Globetrotters’ signature tricks before signing autographs as Brother Bones’ “Sweet Georgia Brown”, the Globetrotters’ longtime theme song, played from a boom box set up on the autograph table.

More goes into being a Globetrotter than just basketball skills, Branch said.

“As the season goes along, you start picking up on things,” Branch said. “Your personality, character and all of those things need to be straight too, because you’re talking about an 84-year history. Once you’re able to maintain those things and they feel that you can be a part of this team, then you’ll get your shot.”

Branch received his nickname because of his high shooting percentage and outside accuracy.

The Magical Memories tour follows a tour of U.S. air bases around the world, something the Globetrotters have done for a number of years.

“We always do a military tour before we start our United States tour,” Branch said. “We go to the military bases overseas and we play games for women and men who are serving in the armed forces.

“We want to show appreciation for what they do. They’re over there fighting and battling and sacrificing their lives.

“They are the actual heroes, and we want to bring something to them. And by seeing their faces — they are so happy — we have a great time every place that we go.”

Branch used a camouflage basketball during his appearance at the base; the same basketball the Globetrotters used while entertaining overseas. He said the ball is another way to show appreciation to the troops.

The Globetrotters’ primary adversaries since 1952 have been the Washington Generals, although they were renamed the New York Nationals from 1995-2006 before returning to the familiar green and yellow of the Generals in 2007.

The running gag of the Globetrotters versus Generals rivalry poses the Generals as intent on competing in a serious basketball game, while the fan-favored Globetrotters perform a series of tricks and pranks, usually at the expense of their adversaries.

But even with all of the buffoonery, the Globetrotters still find a way to out score Washington and claim the victory.

Harlem has beaten the Generals over 13,000 times through the years, while going down in defeat only six times. The last time Washington won a game against the Globetrotters was in Martin, Tenn., on January 5, 1971.

When asked if he ever felt guilty about beating up on Generals for a living, in light of all the military appearances, Branch had a quick response.

“Those are a different type of Generals – they’re green and gold,” Branch said. “The good thing about being a Globetrotter and playing the Generals and coming to the arena — we know what outcome the game is going to be — but our main goal and our main focus is to bring all the families together.”

Branch, who grew up as a big fan of the team, said seeing people bond at Globetrotters games has been his biggest reward since joining the organization.

“Because out of my years of watching the Globetrotters growing up, and out of my years of playing, the many games I’ve played, I’ve never remembered the final score of the game,” Branch said.

“I’ve never remembered how many points someone had; I always remember that one particular moment, that great time I had at that game. And that’s what it’s all about, so everyone’s a winner.”