Weekender

Harlem Globetrotters bounce toward Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Twp.

A gravity-defying dunk.

An impossibly long shot that hits nothing but the bottom of the net.

Ballhandling skills so technical and innovative they redefine what is possible with a basketball.

These are just some of the awe-inspiring feats audience members can expect to see when the Harlem Globetrotters visit Wilkes-Barre Township for two games on Feb. 24 at the Mohegan Sun Arena. But, in true form with the team’s tradition, a dazzling display of basketball skill is only part of what the Globetrotters will offer on their 2018 Amazing Feats of Basketball World Tour.

With a talent-laden roster that has set 17 Guinness World Records, the Globetrotters will showcase their unique combination of stunning on-court theatrics — the tour has added a four-point line that is 6 feet, 3 inches outside the current NBA three-point line — and crowd-pleasing and -engaging entertainment.

Sharpshooter Buckets Blakes is in his 16th season with the Globetrotters, and he is known for making shots of all types from anywhere on the floor.

Blakes, who was a standout on both sides of the ball at the University of Wyoming, said he never thought about taking on the “shooter” persona before joining the Globetrotters.

“I’d say maybe my fourth year is when they started calling me ‘Buckets,’” he said in a recent phone interview. “I knew I could score in bunches. It evolved from me taking and making crazy shots from crazy places. It’s been fitting ever since.”

Blakes said what makes the Globetrotters so entertaining is their diversity of players, both men and women, which include dunkers, dribblers, floor generals and showmen, whom Blakes describes as the “Meadowlark Lemons of the team.”

“They do the most talking during the game,” he said. “Our scouts do a great job of bringing in players who are a piece of the puzzle. So that way we all fit.”

The entertainment aspect of the performance, Blakes said, is a welcome complement to the Globetrotters’ athletic spectacle.

“The ultimate goal is to get as many smiles out of our fans as possible,” he said. “The entertainment part works so well because we don’t step on each other’s toes. If someone is doing something funny, maybe you were about to do something funny, but the crowd took hold of another teammate’s bit before it could happen. It changes; it evolves each night. The next game you see won’t be anything like the last game.”

During his tenure with the team, Blakes has seen the game evolve as well.

“We have freak-of-nature athletes always coming through the Globetrotters, but now the dynamics have changed,” he said. “The dunks are more dynamic. Guys can do more in the air before they dunk. We’ve added a four-point shot that’s 30 feet from the basket.”

He’s also witnessed the return of female teammates.

“We hadn’t had a woman on the team for 20 years until 2010,” he pointed out. “For all the young ladies aspiring to play professional basketball, now they have another outlet.”

And as proud of that progress as Blakes is, he’s even more pleased to discuss the work the Globetrotters do as Ambassadors of Goodwill.

Members of the team visit schools and community centers with three programs.

The ABCs of Bullying Prevention works in conjunction with the National Campaign to Stop Violence to stress the importance of action, bravery and compassion. C.H.E.E.R. is a character building program that incorporates the Globetrotter’s signature ballhandling skills to teach children 6 to 12 traits that are useful in life experiences. S.P.I.N., or Some Playtime is Necessary, is designed to make an active lifestyle approachable to children by making physical fitness fun.

A fourth program, Smile Patrol, takes Globetrotters to hospitals — especially pediatric units — to visit fans who are unable to attend games.

“What we do transcends the basketball court,” Blakes said. “We do this not only in the United States but all over the world. I have the wonderful opportunity to participate in these programs. Most people can’t volunteer in the community until after work. I know we’re making someone smile for two hours before we visit the arena.”

Blakes was scheduled to visit the Heights Elementary school in Wilkes-Barre on Feb. 7 but was prevented by a winter storm from traveling.

The Globetrotters and Mohegan Sun Arena are trying to organize a community outreach event to complement the Globetrotters’ visit to the arena.

Sharpshooter Buckets Blakes, center, will be with the Harlem Globetrotters when they visit the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township on Feb. 24.
https://www.theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_Buckets1.jpgSharpshooter Buckets Blakes, center, will be with the Harlem Globetrotters when they visit the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township on Feb. 24. Submitted photo
Buckets Blakes, right, has been a Harlem Globetrotter for 16 years, and he said the athletes on his team are more dynamic than they’ve ever been before.
https://www.theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/web1_Buckets2.jpgBuckets Blakes, right, has been a Harlem Globetrotter for 16 years, and he said the athletes on his team are more dynamic than they’ve ever been before. Submitted photo
World famous basketball team scheduled for two performances

By Matt Mattei

mmattei@timesleader.com

IF YOU GO

What: The Harlem Globetrotters

When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Feb. 24

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Township

Additional information: Tickets start at $18 and are available at the arena box office, online at ticketmaster.com and by phone at 800-745-3000.

Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.