KENAI — Local kids got a taste of professional basketball with a visit from a former Harlem Globetrotter and a member of the Harlem All-Stars.
Tyrone “Hollywood” Brown and Les “Pee Wee” Harrison spent time with elementary school students, teens and parents before participating in a charity basketball game at Soldotna High School Monday night. Hosted by the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court, they met with children in sixth grade or younger before taking on local basketball players in a game to raise funds for youth activities.
The pair recently played a game in Anchorage, and have both traveled to Alaska several times in the past as part of their careers with the exhibition teams.
“I’ve been coming to Alaska pretty much every year if not every other year, and then after retirement I’ve still been coming here,” Brown said.
Brown left the Globetrotters in 1996, but remains active by doing motivational speaking for schools while he travels. He said visiting kids in rural Alaska is no different than meeting them in big arenas, other than
“It is a laid back attitude situation, but at the same time it’s a close environment so the kids can get a chance to get close to us,” Brown said. “A lot of your other professional leagues... are untouchable.”
Brown regaled about two dozen kids and parents with the story of how he became a Globetrotter — highlighting perseverance, commitment and goal-setting as key components of success. Then, Harrison taught a few of them how to perform some tricky maneuvers with the basketballs.
Kenai resident Kai McKibben, 13, was tasked with throwing a ball up into the air and catching it with the back of his neck.
While he didn’t miss, all he managed to catch two thumps on the back of his head and a ball that ricocheted away each time it hit him. Though he has seen the Globetrotters play before, this was his first time meeting anyone from the professional teams, he said.
“I might play in the game,” McKibben said, adding that he was both excited and nervous about it.
Ginny Espenshade, director of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court, said the visit was first extended to older area youth, who in turn decided they wanted to involve younger children in the experience.
Harrison, who also participates in education efforts, said this visit marked his return to the Kenai area for the first time in five years.
“You find out no matter where you go people are more alike than they are different,” Harrison said. “Everybody laughs the same way, everybody cries the same way.”
One thing he enjoys about the Kenai Peninsula in particular is the fish, he said.
Harrison and Brown’s stop in Soldotna was their last for at least a few weeks, Harrison said, before they start back up again.