If you don’t know who Brother Bones is, you’ve surely heard him. He’s the man who recorded the whistling version of Sweet Georgia Brown, the official theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters,
Bones’ dulcet tones will reverberate throughout the Augusta Civic Center on Monday night as the famed Globetrotters make their first appearance in the state’s capital city in 11 years. The players have changed many times since the Globetrotters adopted their comedic version of basketball more than 80 years ago, but several of the routines remain the same.
A bucket of water tossed into the crowd will mysteriously turn into confetti, a player on the opposing team will lose his shorts, a ball will take crazy lopsided bounces and another will return to the shooter on an elastic string. And their games are filled with expert dribbling and trick shots, all while interacting with the crowd.
“We definitely like to keep some of the traditional stuff in there,” said Fatima “TNT” Maddox, who in 2011 became the first woman to play for the Trotters since 1993. “We want to tie it into what’s going on now.”
In that vein, the Trotters are currently conducting their Fans Rule Tour in which fans vote online for various versions of the game. One version includes a Hot Hand Jersey in which the player wearing a particular jersey gets double points for each basket. Another called Make or Miss involves removing or adding players when baskets are made or missed.
Maddox recalls seeing the Trotters as a kid but wasn’t aware they included any women. She grew up playing the game and after she graduated from Temple University, played in Sweden for a couple of years. She was invited to a tryout and eventually made the team.
“I’m honored to be part of the team,” she said. “Every night I’m the only woman on the court.”
There are actually three female Globetrotters and three Globetrotter teams which play in different cities each night. When they appear in Augusta on Monday night, Maddox will be playing in Colorado Springs. Her specialty is dribbling, “like a Curly Neal if you will,” she said.
Curly Neal is one of the iconic Globetrotters who dazzled crowds from 1963 to 1985 with his ballhandling wizardry. Other legendary stars included what were known as Showmen, those who wore the microphones and spoke to the crowd. Meadowlark Lemon was best known in a long line of Showmen that included Goose Tatum and Geese Ausbie. Today that group includes Big Easy Lofton. Hi-Lite Bruton, Ant Atkinson and Handles Franklin.
For years the Trotters played the Washington Generals, a team that sustained the brunt of their jokes. These days is the World All-Stars who travel with the various outfits around the United States and the world. Before the game starts the Trotters warm up in their famed Magic Circle to the trains of Sweet Georgia Brown, spinning balls on the fingertips, making no look passes and generally dazzling the audience with their ballhandling skills. Maddox is included in the circle nowadays and honored to be a part of it.
“I wasn’t sure how it would really work out,” she said of playing on a team of men. “It’s been great, they’re a great group of guys.”
The Globetrotters often go into the communities in which they play and speak at schools, deliver Meals on Wheels, and visit schools and military bases.
“You have to be a great entertainer and a great person,” said a representative of the team’s PR department. “The Globetrotters are more than just a basketball team.”
The Trotters have won nearly 20,000 games in their history, many of those wins scripted, but at one time they played the best teams in the world and were contenders in the World Basketball Tournament, wining the title in 1940. Past players including NBA great like Wilt Chamberlain, Connie Hawkins and Sweetwater Clifton.
They originated in 1926 in Chicago under the direction of Abe Saperstein, who later adopted the team’s name to reflect the nation’s center of African American Culture. They actually didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968. They’ve served as goodwill ambassadors around the world playing in more 120 countries. Today, they’re owned by Herschend Family Entertainment headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz. They’ll play about 150 dates in the U.S. until next month when they head overseas. One of their teams is heading to China while Maddox is going to Peru. The language barrier is of little concern to her.
“We believe basketball is a universal language,” she said.