BANGOR, Maine — Even with all the fooling around they do on the hardwood, the Harlem Globetrotters get a lot accomplished during a basketball game — on and off the court.
Monday night was a case in point as the Clown Princes of Basketball paid a visit to the Bangor Auditorium to perform before a crowd of about 1,500 fans.
Between — and even while —taunting players from the Washington Generals, their longtime nemesis, teasing the referee, joking around with each other and the fans, and mixing in all manners of tricks, humor, athleticism, stunts and high jinks, the Globetrotters were also raising money for local charities, and winning over yet another generation of fans.
“What I find most enjoyable is giving back to the kids and putting millions of smiles on faces all over the world,” said Kenny “Blenda” Rodriguez, now in his third year as a Globetrotter. “That’s our biggest trick.”
He only stands just under 5 feet, 10 inches, but Rodriguez is living proof that you don’t have to be a giant to be a Globetrotter. It does help if you have a big heart, however.
“You don’t have to have height with the Globetrotters as long as you have talent, character, personality, and a good way with the kids,” said the Manhattan, N.Y. native. “If you can play basketball and do tricks and entertain, that’s what they’re looking for.”
Rodriguez, who says he got his Blenda nickname because he “make smoothies out of people on the basketball court,” became a Globetrotter after catching the eye of a team scout and attending a tryout almost three years ago.
“I became a Globetrotter Aug. 16,” said an obviously proud Rodriguez, who played college ball at Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J. “I’m just loving it.”
Not surprising since his current “job” feels like anything but and is the culmination of a nearly life-long goal.
“I went to a store and bought a VHS tape about six decades of the Globetrotters,” the 31-year-old Rodriguez explained. “I studied every move and matched every pass and trick and started getting more creative after that.”
Rodriguez was one of nine Globetrotters entertaining fans at the Auditorium as his team extended an unbeaten streak against the Generals dating back to 1971 to 23,507 games.
The rest of the Globetrotters ensemble included captain Kevin “Special K” Daley, Ant Atkinson, El Gato Melendez, Scooter Christensen, Sarge Johnson, Cobra Coley, Bear Butler, Turbo Pearson and head coach Clyde “the Glide” Frazier.
The two-hour event included the game (which was almost incidental to everything else going on), fan participation, contests, and laughs. They included traditional antics like exploding balls, the “fake bucket of water” trick to fouling a Generals player so hard he loses his shorts and jersey, to more novel ones like playing Globetrotters baseball, which involves one player pitching a ball by rolling it — curling-style — down the floor to the “batter” as teammates act as sweepers, trying to direct it across the plate.
Three children representing local schools from Corinth to Beech Hill were each presented $1,000 checks from Campbell’s Soup for their schools after one con-test in which Globie, the team mascot, was “bowled” via an oversized skateboard into “pins” made of over-sized, inflatable soup cans.
Young children like Ella and John were brought out onto the court by Daley to have balls spun on their fingers or shoot foul shots and given special souvenirs like team balls and team jerseys.
That’s the part of the job Rodriguez loves most.
“It’s a lot of fun, and we become family,” Rodriguez said of his stint with one of America’s most well-known teams. “That’s why we have so much chemistry on the court.”
Rodriguez is literally living his dream.
“I’ve been to over 27 countries with the Globetrot-ters,” he said. “We like playing everywhere. We’re known for playing in very unique places.
“We played on the roof of the Philadelphia Spectrum last year. We played on ice last month for the first time. We’ve played in a bowling alley and even played in the dark not too long ago. We had glowing nets, the rim glowed. Our socks and shoelaces glowed.”
Oh, and almost forgotten among the much more memorable moments of the game was the final score. Despite Generals head coach Reggier Harrison’s effort to do anything to win, including using a spinning um-brella to hypnotize Harlem players into making plays for Washington, the Globetrotters won 83-72.