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ENTERTAINMENT : Exhibition to Benefit Athletics at UCSB : Harlem Globetrotters will pay a visit to campus Wednesday. Power forward Kelvin (Special K) Hildreth talks about the team.

January 13, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Consider "no future" for a moment. Wile E. Coyote. The extra, nameless crewmen who beam down to the uncharted planet with Kirk and Spock. Lorena Bobbitt and the ginzu knife franchise for Boys Town. Pork Twinkies. Frisbees for cats. William Tell's kid with the hiccups. Whoever has to play the Harlem Globetrotters.

The Globetrotters haven't lost a game since Richard Nixon was in office. When they lost 100-99 on Jan. 5, 1971, it snapped a 2,495-game winning streak. Overall, their record is something like 18,350 wins and 331 losses. Expect one more win when the Globetrotters perform at a Wednesday night exhibition to benefit UC Santa Barbara athletics.

Think about every basketball innovation from fast breaks to slam dunks to no-look passes--the Globetrotters probably did it first. The team, now in its 68th season, have a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, three movies and a zillion fans. They've played in 112 countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

Kelvin (Special K) Hildreth, a 6-foot-8 power forward out of Los Angeles, discussed the life and times of the most famous basketball team in the world.

So what's the winning streak up to now?

Oh man, I'd say around 15,000 or so.

How often do you guys play?

We do 200 to about 260 games a year. Sometimes we play seven days in a row, eight games a week, sometimes twice a day. When we go overseas, we usually end up playing the country's national team. We played the Russians and beat them by seven or eight. We played the Australian team and beat them by quite a bit. One time, we played the Chinese national team; those guys were all bigger than we were. We got the tap, and I was going for a dunk when their center kneed me in the hip. I was out three weeks.

Who are the usual victims you guys always beat up on?

It's the Washington Generals. We don't travel with them or hang out with them or anything. They don't like us. They just have the same schedule. It's sort of a continuing grudge match. Any time you get big guys 6-9, 6-10 or 6-11 going at each other, there's a lot of elbows and pushing going on. One time at half court, two guys squared off and started going at it. There was blood and guts--the whole thing. So as I'm escorting our guy back to the bench, I heard some fan say, "Oh man, how'd they do that? That looked real." They thought it was part of the show.

What's the secret to surviving on the road?

The hardest thing is trying to make time to get enough rest. You have to take care of your body, eat as well as you can and try to stay on top of injuries. There's not a lot of down time in between shows.

As goodwill ambassadors, you guys are almost too good to be true. Is it hard to be nice all the time?

You know it is. It's a very difficult job, and there's a lot of demands that come with it. You know how exhausting kids can be--they have lots of energy. We're constantly giving. But, I'm still excited every time I go out there. We feed off the energy the crowd gives us. And every time you look up, there's a fresh face that wants everything because we haven't been to their town for a long time. Plus, we get to rub elbows with kings, queens and prime ministers, so there's that.

How did you become a member of the Globetrotters?

After I got out of college at Mississippi State, I went to a tryout with the Clippers, but I wasn't really prepared to play for large sums of money. I figured if they liked my jump shot, that's all there is to it. But at a pro camp, it's a fight--you're fighting for a job. I made it to the second cut. Then I tried out for the Sacramento Kings, and they were all set to sign me when they told me to wait a couple of weeks. You know, bills don't wait, so my agent suggested I go to the Globetrotters training camp. I did, but I ended up playing in a pro league in Italy, where there was a lot of pressure. Anyway, the Globetrotters called and offered me a two-month contract and sent me a first-class plane ticket. That was 1987, and here I am.

What's training camp like?

There's a camp every year around September. Everyone gets a one-year contract, so no one gets complacent. You have to come to camp in shape with fire in your eyes. Right now, there's two Globetrotters teams with 10 guys on each team. Every year, 20 or 25 guys try out and maybe one or two new guys make it.

Who would win if each Globetrotters team played each other?

There's no difference between them. They'd win one, then we'd win one--like that.

How did the Globetrotters ever lose 331 games anyway?

It was a long time ago, but it happens, you know. Back then, they played all comers. We're getting back to that. In the next couple of years, we'll be playing a CBA all-star team, and then--maybe I shouldn't tell you this--but we'll be playing NBA teams again.

If you guys were in the NBA, how would you do?

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