'You’re giving back at every moment that you have your uniform on'

A conversation with the Globetrotters' Buckets Blakes

Back in the day, Anthony “Buckets” Blakes was a Sonics fan.

He loved Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, and the latter’s infamous dunk over Alton Lister is a highlight he says he’ll never forget.

Blakes has carved out a professional basketball career of his own, and for the last 15 years, he’s entertained audiences around the world as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

This week, Blakes was in Seattle in advance of the Globetrotters’ weekend slate of games in Western Washington (including games at 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday at KeyArena).

“I love coming here,” he says. “It’s a great basketball atmosphere.”

As part of his visit, he sat down with the Queen Anne & Magnolia News to discuss his career, and his favorite parts of being a Globetrotter.

How did you become a Globetrotter?

Blakes: One of the Globetrotters’ scouts gave me a call after I returned from playing in Europe. I had played in the CBA, played in the D-League, and I played in Europe before I became a Globetrotter. When I got back, one of the scouts gave me a call, and they sent me on a 10-day contract, and signed me after six of those 10 days. And here I am in my 15th year.

When you were playing in college or professionally, did you ever think about being a Globetrotter? Was that on your radar?

Blakes: I always told myself that I was going to be a professional athlete when I was a kid. It actually wasn’t sport-specific until I made a decision right after high school that I would choose basketball — I had a full-ride scholarship for track and field and football too — I chose basketball because it’s indoors. I’m from Phoenix. Football practice was hot. Track practice was hot. And I just feel like, the Globetrotters was professional basketball, an opportunity to continue playing the game. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What’s your favorite part about being a Globetrotter?

Blakes: My favorite part, I think, is about getting a chance to see the world, and getting people to laugh and smile despite language barriers. I’ve been to 79 countries since I’ve been on the team, and everywhere we go we’re the home team, and people laugh, smile, and have a good time, and it’s right up my alley, my personality. I’m kind of the funny one in the family, and I notice that about my teammates as well. When you get a chance to meet your teammates’ families, you realize that they’re that outgoing, funny personality type person in their family, so it’s pretty cool to have that effect on other people in different parts of the world.

When you’re preparing for a game, how much is what you do based on athleticism, and how much is practicing tricks?

Blakes: It’s all the same for us. When we’re preparing for a game — as a rookie you’re given a basketball to take with you back to your hotel room, or walk around with a little bit, not like in the mall or anything, and you’ve got to work on your craft. Everybody has to kind of put a routine together, and it’s your own routine, it fits your height, weight, shape, flexibility, and then your personality comes out in that routine. That’s a constant, so to speak, but when we’re out there practicing, we’ve got a lot of plays. We have an elaborate playbook that you have to go over and you have to know, and once you figure all that out, you’ll start to blend in to what we call the Harlem Globetrotters as far as the team goes, because it’s tough. You have to learn how to turn it on and turn it off, and what I mean by that is you have to be able to turn on that competitive, or flick that competitive switch, and then turn it off and entertain, and then you might have to combine the two at the same time, but most of the time you’re turning it on and turning it off, so that’s the toughest transition you have to make. We practice an hour and 30 minutes before every game, sometimes two hours, so we can be as perfect as possible for our fans out there, who, you know, they’re our lifeline.

And if everybody has their own unique thing they bring to the table, what’s your routine?

Blakes: In the “magic circle,” that’s a bunch of tricks, we don’t have a name for it, you just come up with your routine for the “magic circle,” but my nickname is “Buckets,” because I can score a lot of baskets, and I’ve been making shots not only on the basketball court all over the place. Now it’s getting to the point where I just made one at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, the first baseball stadium that a Globetrotter’s made a shot from. That height was 200 feet. And then, the Tower of the Americas, the highest shot ever made in North America, 583 feet, eight inches. The most underhand half-court shots made in one minutes, in the Guinness World Records for that, so that’s kind of been my niche, so to speak.

How does it feel to set a world record?

Blakes: It’s awesome. As a kid, when it’s time for the whole class to go to the library, everybody’s running for those Guinness World Record books, because you want to see the tallest person in the world, you want to see the creepy lady with the longest fingernails, you want to see the smallest bike in the world made out of coins, or whatever the case may be, but now to be in the Guinness Book of World Records is pretty awesome. To have a couple of copies of that sitting around, it’s something for one day some grandkids to look at.

What are some of your most memorable moments?

Blakes: I’ve got some on the court. My first game ever was at Madison Square Garden, as a Harlem Globetrotter, which is the mecca of basketball. I’d never played there before, you just hear about it. Curly Neal was there, so that was my first game ever.

Having the opportunity to play on my first military tour for our troops. We were over in Japan, and I think that was very memorable because you realize how much they really appreciate it. Some of them have been away from home for months, or maybe even years, or even deployed out to sea or whatever, and when we come in, with a little piece of the United States, the red white and blue basketball, the stars and stripes on our uniforms, the troops go nuts.

And then also, off the court, the hospital visits are always a treat. We mainly visit pediatrics or children’s hospitals, and these are the kids who don’t have the opportunity to come to our games. They’re not at any of the schools we visit, talking about anti-bullying and character education, none of the Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, recreation centers, so we make it a point to go see them, and those kids, they kind of keep you going. There’s kids in there fighting through chemo, or they’re on dialysis, and some of them haven’t smiled in weeks and months until we showed up, so now there’s no reason for us to complain. They keep you humble.

To do this for as long as you have, what keeps you coming back?

Blakes: Things like I just mentioned, but also having an opportunity. This is one of those teams where you’re giving back at every moment that you have your uniform on. Even with it off now that it’s been so many years. Most people have to wait until they get off work to give back into their community. I get to give back into communities all over the United States and all over the world without having to wait until my 9-to-5 is over, so I think that’s what keeps me coming back is being able to have a positive impact on the rest of the world.

To learn more about the Harlem Globetrotters, or to purchase tickets, visit www.harlemglobetrotters.com.