MILWAUKEE — The players nicknames include the likes of Airport, Bones, Cheesy, Dizzy, Firefly and Hacksaw. And they have a fellow who is 7’8″ tall called “Tiny!” The Harlem Globetrotters have played more than 20,000 games in 120 countries, and they rarely lose.
The world famous Harlem Globetrotters have been the quintessential entertainment for generations. They have been a fixture in Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve for a quarter century.
Their unrivaled family show features ball handling wizardry, rim rattling slam dunks, and side splitting comedy all with fan interaction.
“By far, it’s been the greatest experience of my life. I’ve been blessed to travel all over the world and create positive memories — not only for myself, but for people all over the world,” Slick Willie Shaw said.
Shaw grew up in Brooklyn — just a subway hop or two away from Harlem. He led St. John’s University to the NIT championship in 2003 before getting an invite to play for the Globetrotters.
“It’s like a dream come true. Ever since I was six I wanted to play professional basketball, and the Harlem Globetrotters granted me that opportunity. With such legendary history going on for 90 years — always the home team, and people love them. It’s a priceless job, you know? I love it,” Shaw said.
Orlando Melendez, aka “El Gato” is the first player born in Puerto Rico to ever perform for the Globetrotters.
“In my hometown, they’re like ‘wow, you have traveled the world. Sit down with me. Have a coffee and tell me what you’ve done.’ It’s kind of funny when you sit down in the square of town with some people that grew up with you and asked you all these questions,” Melendez said.
Of course, the iconic team is best known for what the players do on the court, but recently, Shaw and Melendez helped knock an item off the bucket list of Righty Poppenheim — an 82-year-old retired school teacher.
“When you get a chance to go into the communities and be a positive influence — brighten someone’s day simply by going over and saying ‘hello’ and doing a couple tricks, spinning the ball on their finger, it’s priceless. This is the part of the job I love the most,”
Shaw and Melendez are paid to perform, but touching people’s lives is no act.
“I don’t think that you could fake not being a genuine person. I think that everybody who’s on our roster, everybody who’s in our organization are genuinely good-hearted people. That’s one thing most important that we look for. You have to be a great basketball player. You have to have a great smile. You have to have great character,” Shaw said.
“It’s nothing better than seeing a six-year-old cracking up laughing and like two chairs down there’s a 70-year-old cracking up laughing, and you see their age difference, but everybody’s united by their smiles. There’s nothing more worth it than that,” Melendez said.
The Harlem Globetrotters are passionate about what they do, even though the schedule is a grind.
Off days are few and far between.
“We play over 300 games a year. It’s non-stop. We start December 26th, is our first game, and we’ll go all the way to April. Four months of creating positive memories,” Shaw said.
The Harlem Globetrotters will be in Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve — at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
CLICK HERE for details on that event.