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Published: Wednesday, 12/22/2010

Globetrotters come to Toledo Tuesday

Their headquarters is nowhere near Harlem, N.Y.

And they are now part of the investment portfolio of a private equity firm in suburban Los Angeles.

But when the Phoenix-based Harlem Globetrotters jog onto the court Tuesday at Huntington Center, look for the same mix of superb ball-handling, comedy, and theater they have become known for since the Roaring 20s.

"We are the innovators of the alley-oop, the 3-point shot, and the slam dunk," said forward "Slick" Willie Shaw in a bit of an overstatement.

And this year, the team that helped create the sports-entertainment genre is rolling out a new play: a 4-point shot that, while not launched from the bleachers, is 35 feet from the basket (or 12 feet beyond the 3-point arc used in the NBA).

"It could change the game," boasted Shaw.

Shaw, who joined the team after playing at St. John's University in New York, was in Toledo last week to promote the Globetrotters' Toledo performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets start at $20 and are available at the Huntington Center box office, ticketmaster.com, Kroger stores locally, and by calling 800-745-3000.

Before meeting with the media to discuss the team's upcoming appearance, Shaw visited with 93-year-old Al Price, the oldest-living former member of the Globetrotters.

Price, who is now a resident of the Laurels nursing home at Byrne Road and Dorr Street, has slowed down and doesn't process information as well as he once did.

But, aided by Shaw, the Toledo man who graduated from Waite High School in the 1930s was able to dribble a ball and briefly balance on the tip of his finger a spinning basketball put into orbit by the younger man.

"It's an honor to meet you," Shaw told Price.

The Globetrotter presented the retired player with a ceremonial basketball, wristbands, and headband.

When Price had difficulty opening the package containing the sweatbands, Shaw jumped in and helped the older man put on the gear.

"This is what us young guys do," he explained. "We have all of these accessories."

After the encounter, Shaw commented: "I'm impressed he's moving around. When I'm 93 I want to move like that and look like that."

Shaw is one of 29 players who travel on two separate Globetrotters squads.

Like other team members, he doesn't let on that contests between the team and its feckless opponents, the Washington Generals (three wins, 13,000 losses), are as real as those smackdowns between the Miz and CM Punk in that other bastion of sports entertainment: professional wrestling.

"I wanted to play professional basketball," said the former collegiate athlete. "I'm playing basketball."

In the six years since he joined the team after college, the 6-foot, 6-inch native of the Bronx, N.Y., has enjoyed visiting and performing in more than 50 countries. He just returned from a tour in Mexico.

"It is one of the greatest experiences of my life," he added.

Crowds have grown in Europe as the popularity of basketball has risen as a result of European players being drafted by the NBA, Shaw said.

The atmosphere of practice is much different than the fun and games witnessed during performances. "You have to put in the hard work," Shaw said. "You work on your ball-handling. And you also have to work on a special craft."

The Globetrotters open their 2011 U.S. and Canada tour Sunday. Between then and April 17, squads will travel to 220 cities in 46 states and six Canadian provinces.

The team was formed by Chicago promoter Abe Saperstein in the late 1920s, although the exact date is in dispute. He ran the organization until his death in 1966. Nevertheless, the Globetrotters have declared 2011 their 85th anniversary season. They began as an all-black team that played competitive basketball, but later evolved into an exhibition squad.

The majority owner for the past five years has been Shamrock Capital Growth Fund of Burbank, Calif. The fund is the investment arm of the family of the late Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney.

Contact Gary Pakulski at: gpakulski@theblade.com or 419-724-6082

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