'I'LL THROW you off this roof," Kevin "Special K" Daley threatened referee Eric Weaver yesterday during a basketball game played on top of the Wachovia Spectrum.
It was part of the Harlem
Globetrotters' schtick, of course. The only things to leave the roof involuntarily yesterday during the latest event to mark the passing of the Spectrum was a beach ball designed to look like a basketball, and the usual bucket full of confetti.
But for anyone who saw Weaver's face as he climbed the series of steel ladders that led to the top of the Spectrum, this was not entirely funny. "This was definitely not my idea," he had said minutes before, as he catwalked along the catwalk 100 feet above the old building's floor. "I'm afraid of heights."
He wasn't alone. Several of the Washington Generals wore the same expression as they followed him across the catwalk moments later, later climbing each step to the porthole in the roof like action heroes dangling from a helicopter. And although the Globetrotters made their way to the top with songs in their voices and smiles on their faces, Daley admitted an hour later that, "Honestly, I'm a little scared to be up here."
One of two "showmen" on the current edition that is touring the Delaware Valley this week, Daley has been with the Trotters for 4 years. Played in some unusual places, too.
Once, he said, on a cricket field in Jamaica, amid wind and rain.
"I did my research," he said. "They told me that part of this roof collapsed one time. So before I started climbing I called my wife and told her, 'I love you honey.' "
The roof was safe, Eric Nemeth, of Comcast-Spectacor, continually assured. Engineers had checked it out, precautions had been taken, including dividing the media into three groups, each taking its turn up top watching an abbreviated matchup between the Globetrotters and the Generals.
The Generals lost, 36-24. Their quest for an upset was hampered by a few things: the lack of a three-point line, a blazing sun in their eyes and wind in their face, and almost as many dead spots as the old Boston Garden.
Then again, the old Garden is gone, long gone, replaced by a building not unlike the snack-chip-shaped Wachovia Center. The Spectrum is still here, at least until the end of 2009, taunting the newer building from across the street with its history of championships and miracle shots (Christian Laettner?), and a history of Globetrotters shows as well. A total of 72, we were told, beginning with a game on Dec. 2, 1967, and continuing until 1997, when they moved to the building that eventually became known as the Wachovia Center.
And here's the really amazing thing: In all those games, they never lost once.
"It's definitely a special part of Globetrotter history," Daley said. "Thirty years out of the 83 years we've been alive. We wanted to be part of the farewell."
When the Spectrum opened in 1967, the Globetrotters were Curly Neal and
Meadowlark Lemon, an enterprise that spawned guest appearances and an entire cartoon cottage industry. They played against robots on "Gilligan's Island" once, someone recalled yesterday. Their cartoon caricatures helped "Scooby Doo" solve crimes, and had plenty of adventures on their own as well.
They are still an enterprise, of course. Their ambitious schedule this week - which includes stops in Delaware, Trenton, Temple tomorrow and two games at the snack-chip place Sunday - suggests a healthy franchise. Most of the tricks and banter are familiar to anyone who remembers the Spectrum as a youngster, but that familiarity is comforting, not annoying. You could see that in the faces, and the laughter, of the crusty media beckoned to the top of the building yesterday.
There were some new gags. A few were even unintentional. Once, when Generals player Ammer Johnson tried to drive to the hole from the perimeter, the ball hit one of the roof's soft spots and stuck as if glued, forcing Johnson to stumble over it.
"You had to adjust a little bit out there," said Johnson, who also admitted, "I really don't like heights."
It sounded strange coming from an outfit that used to drag ladders onto the court just for gags, and may have been the first guys to hang from the rim, too. But those were the Globetrotters from the past, the Trotters of Meadowlark and Curly and "Sweet Lou" Dunbar.
This crew has to work harder, in this day of video games and digitally produced special effects, to reinvent themselves over and over again. Sometimes that means playing on top of a building with snow surrounding your court, with a city's streets more than 100 feet below you - and some lifelong fears stewing in the back of your head.
Special K said he hardly noticed. On purpose.
"They always say don't look down if
you're afraid of heights," Daley said. "But this isn't so bad. At least we're not playing too close to the edge." *
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