As many of you know, I love participatory journalism. So in talking to the Harlem Globetrotters about a story a couple weeks ago, they offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play against them as a member of the Washington Generals.
But it wasn't just any game. It was in Madison Square Garden. It front of some 12,000 people--including Dan Rather, his son and his grandson in the first row--who were there for the Globetrotters and the retirement of Curly Neal's No. 22 jersey. I've stepped onto many fields, but this was the absolute best.
When I arrived, I was greeted by John Ferrari, vice president of operations and general manager for the Generals. He gave me my No. 00 Generals jersey and asked if I could play.
"I'm alright," I said, somehow worrying about expectations despite the fact that, as a General, I was of course expected to lose. The Globetrotters opponents haven't won a game since 1971 when Generals founder Red Klotz, then 50, hit a shot with the clock winding down to beat the Trotters. To my great surprise, Klotz was on hand at the Garden to shake my hand before the game.
I then met the team. They were a collection of guys who were pretty serviceable players. I've been in locker rooms with teams on a losing streak, but never like this! You could tell they loved to have fun as players/actors.
Before I went out, I shook Curly's hand and met with the announcer, who asked me if I had a nickname. I said he could make up what he wanted, which came back to burn me.
Layup lines were OK. I was just trying to blend in, but I was definitely nervous and, on one horribly missed lay-up, I heard some kids in the front chuckle. After the national anthem, the announcer went through the lineups. "A 5-10 guard from Northwestern, CNBC Sports Business Reporter, Darren Rovell." I got the chills.
The flow of the jokes provided for me to get in for about one minute after a time out in the second quarter.
When I checked in, the announcer gave me a nickname. "Into the game for the Generals, No. 00 Darren "Boom Boom" Rovell. The audience laughed. I was totally serious. Getting into the game wasn't enough. I had to get on the board.
I got passed the ball just inside the three point line when "Showtime" Gaffney, the team's "Clown Prince," who was with the team when I last saw the Globetrotters, dared me to shoot the ball. Having not taken one practice jump shot, I air balled a couple shots, with Gaffney even giving me the ball after a rebound to try again. The next time down the floor, intent on getting on the board, I ran straight into the paint and called for the ball. Gaffney fouled me hard and I went to the line.
After taunting me many times, I took a couple dribbles.
I couldn't air ball these two. So I aimed at the hoop and shot it a little bit harder than I thought I needed to. Bank off glass. In. I was on the board and the record books--even though there aren't any physical ones.
The next shot rimmed out.
I watched the rest of the game from the bench surprised just how much the Generals were hanging in the game. I was hoping that one of the Generals would go off, forget about who he was playing for, shoot the lights out and beat the Globetrotters. It was, after all, the only way I was going to get a real box score printed. I was daydreaming of the headline: "Generals Beat Trotters, First Time In 37 Years. Spoil Neal's Jersey Retirement At Garden." But it was not to be. We lost 60-55.
Stay tuned as we'll bring you the business behind the Globetrotters in the coming weeks.
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