"Supertrotter" Billy Ray Hobley Interview
Harlem Globetrotters

They are the most liked and recognized sports team in the United States.

They've performed for over 100 million people in 114 countries in the past 70 years.

We're talking of course about the Harlem Globetrotters.

Billy Ray Hobley has been with the Globetrotters since 1977.

Since joining, he's traveled around the world six times, hence the nickname, "Supertrotter."

We spoke with Billy about life as a Harlem Globetrotter.

Q. Billy, you're called "Supertrotter" because you've been around the world six times with the Globetrotters. I take it that's a pretty rare achievement for a player on the team these days?
A. Well, you know, right now that is a big achievement, because the only Globetrotters that had played that length of time was the old boys, like Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Tex Harrison, "Geese" Ausbie. Those guys played a long, long time. For me to play at this time, it is a big accomplishment, and I'm really, really proud of it. The thing that I find unique from my position is that I have always been the supporting cast. So, you have the main, key people that have always been the showmen and the dribblers. They have always outlasted everybody; 'cause that's the way the system has always been set up. But, to be a supporting cast and lasted this long, it is a big achievement, and still going strong. (Laughs).

Q. You made your debut with the Globetrotters in 1977?
A. That's right.

Q. And you're still playing today?
A. That's right. I'm the player, coach and one of the staff members right now.

Q. How did you happen to join the Globetrotters? Did you approach them? Did they approach you?
A. Well, you know, I graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and Dillard is a private Black university, basically an academic school, and not known for basketball. But, after I graduated, my coach told me, 'Billy Ray, the Globetrotters have been scouting you for four years.' At that time we had scouts. I was supposed to have reported to the Globetrotters camp that September. But, I wasn't waiting around. I got into that New Orleans professional basketball league. I was averaging close to 40 points a game, doing extremely well. The Globetrotters brought me to a special camp, in August. When I went to that camp, they signed me right on the spot. I got on the court that morning. That night the president called me and I thought he was telling me to go home. He called and offered me a contract for 3 years.

Q. How old were you at that time?
A. I was 22. I was 21, but that November I would've been 22.

Q. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I always had this idea, that when a guy's pro basketball days were over, instead of retiring, he would join the Harlem Globetrotters.
A. Oh, that's wrong.

Q. So, guys are approached after graduating college aren't they?
A. Yes. To be honest with you, the Globetrotters are the first organization to set up a scouting program. We started that. So, we've been scouting players for a long time. We have our own system. We have survived so long, because we not only have a unique brand of basketball, but, we have our own unique culture. We got our own system in which we recruit players in. When we recruit a player, he's got to be more than just a basketball player. He's got to be an outstanding basketball player. Plus, you've got to have a pleasing, audience personality. If you're a happy guy, enjoy people, and can get along with people, that's a Globetrotter. A Globetrotter is a person that is born with natural personality, with a giving heart, with exceptional athleticism. We take that and cultivate it into our system. The Globetrotters staff is just like Grandma's recipe. You can't get that recipe or flavor until she tells you her secret. (Laughs).

Q. Now that you mention it, there is no other team out there like the Harlem Globetrotters.
A. And let me say this, you look at the ballplayers in the NBA that are stand-out players. How many standout players do you have in the NBA? You hear about Michael Jordan. You know why you hear about Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan plays Harlem Globetrotters type of basketball. We are role models. When you come to a Globetrotters game, the parents know that they're going to see a lot of exceptional basketball players. They know they're going to see sportsmanship and they know their kids are going to be watching a group of guys who are gonna be out there smiling, and having a great time. That's what sports is supposed to be all about. It's entertainment. It's supposed to be joy and fun. To be honest with you, we are the only basketball team that's still upholding those values. That's why we are known as Ambassadors of Goodwill.

Q. These days when you think of sports, the first thing you think of is money.
A. Thank-you.

Q. But, never with the Globetrotters. You think of a good show and good sportsmanship.
A. You never hear about a Globetrotter talking about millions of dollars. We're not into millions of dollars. We're into millions of smiles. (Laughs).

Q. An you never hear about any scandals.
A. Oh no, man. Right now our families need all the help that they can get. Our school systems need all the help that they can get. Our churches need all the help they can get. We are a part of that positive force. For example, we just got back from South Africa again. Last summer we were in South Africa. We made President Mandela an honorary Harlem Globetrotter. We went to South Africa not only to be part of basketball development, but also cultural development. We went over there to bring hope and inspiration to not only the children but also the adults. It was such a great success that we were invited back this summer. So that's how powerful what we do is. You know what President Mandela told me when I met him? As a President he shook all of our bands and I told him, 'What you're doing is so magnificent. God Bless You.' He told me, 'What you guys do for the world, I can never measure up to.' Now, that's a compliment isn't it?

Q. That's a big compliment.
A. That's something.

Q. I would imagine that in the 20 years you've been with the Globetrotters you've met a lot of famous people.
A. Yes.

Q. Did you ever meet Princess Di?
A. I never got a chance to meet her. But, what I saw she was all about and what she was doing, and taking her prestige and fame and giving it to those children, that's what life is all about. I think that's what she will always be remembered for. That's why everybody's talking about how humble and gracious her heart was for somebody else. Despite her own problems she always had time to give to those children, to visit the poor, to go and see the sick and she also had the time to let people know she loved them, and she was willing to give. That's what she's going to be remembered for. She was a real Modern Day Princess. She was a great loss for society. But, you know what? Let's look at it from a positive perspective. What she shared with us will let the poor know that if she can become a princess and have a humble heart, why can't you?

Q. Abe Superstein is the gentleman who got things rolling with the Globetrotters. I know he's no longer around, but are any of his relatives involved in the present day activities of the organization?
A. No. This organization is all about Mannie Jackson, who is an alumni of the Harlem Globetrotters. Since he purchased this team, we have been soaring. Man, we've just been doing great things. We've got about eight different sponsors. We've added new countries that we haven't visited. Right now we have a couple of guys who hold a Guiness Book of Records in slam dunking. So, this is the new Harlem Globetrotters now. His vision is absolutely clear. That's why, like right now, we are back. (Laughs). Mannie Jackson is a Globetrotter, so, you know he knows the organization inside and out. So that's why we are so successful right now. We are doing so many magnificent things right now, because of his leadership.

Q. A film is being made on the Globetrotters. Will that be for t.v. or the Big Screen?
A. It's gonna be a motion picture. The last picture we did was Go Man Go! So, we're gonna have a new version coming out.

Q. Dick Clark Productions is developing a situation comedy about the Globetrotters?
A. (Laughs).

Q. That means you could be on t.v. every week!!
A. Oh man, and everybody is still talking about when we had the cartoon show. So, this is gonna fit in perfect. We got so many things going on right now. It's time. Everybody's been saying the Globetrotters are back. We were just on the Vicki Lawrence Show.

Q. The Globetrotters are building a performing arts theatre in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. What do you know about that?
A. Wow! I didn't know about that.

Q. Would you think it means the Globetrotters will be spending less time on the road?
A. Oh, no. No way. Now, the word Globetrotter, that's what we're all about. So, we can't get away from our name. But, there's such a great demand for happiness and joy, that we are always gonna be Globetrotters. Truthfully, the whole thing about it is, we are so busy. We're constantly busy. That's why we have two teams. There are 20 Globetrotters in the world. One team may go to South America and one team may go to North America. We have a schedule in which one team takes off going this way and one team takes off going another way. So, we'll probably have a team in Myrtle Beach and another team will probably be in Australia somewhere.

Q. How do you learn the different stunts that are used by the Globetrotters? Do you know the basics already and the coaches just help you perfect the technique?
A. Let me put it this way, when these guys come to training camp they come to try and make the team. When you come to a Globetrotter camp, you're gonna have to compete, twice a day. This is straight-up basketball.

Q. And it's tough isn't it?
A. Yes, it's tough. You can't just walk into a Globetrotter camp. You have to be invited. Then, once you make the team, that's when we begin to show you the Harlem Globetrotters wizardry, by taking your ability and seeing how you can fit into our system, 'cause we are all specialists.

Q. How did "Sweet Georgia Brown" come to be the Globetrotter theme song?
A. That's a real good question right there. I would imagine that during that time when the Globetrotters started, in 1926, there's a certain type of beat. We go off of a certain rhythm, a certain beat. Whoever came up with that idea, they sure came up with a winner.

Q. You never get tired of listening to it.
A. That's right! Look at the name of the song, Sweet Georgia Brown. It's got a certain jazz sound to it.

Q. Your favorite country is Australia. What do you like about it?
A. You know, that was before I went to South Africa.

Q. Now you have two favorite countries.
A. Yeah. I gotta say South Africa as well. What I love about Australia is their attitude; their words like 'No worries mate', like no worries. They are so friendly. I was born and raised in the South, so we have this thing called Southern hospitality, o.k. When I went to Australia, I received that Southern hospitality. It seems that when you do down under they want you to leave that country remembering them. They want you bragging on them. They want you to leave there thinking they're magnificent people, and a great country. That's why I really love Australia. South Africa is the first country I ever went to where I am a majority. (Laughs). And to go over there at this time when it's new democratic South Africa, and watching adults act like kids, happy for their freedom, with open eyes, and giving out natural love, that's something I wish everybody could experience. The people we met were so eager to see us. They were so happy for us to be there.

Q. I bet you played to big crowds did you?
A. Oh, man, man, yes. We went into townships where kids had never seen a basketball before. We left about twenty-five thousand basketballs over there.

Q. Your advice to young athletes is, "Believe in yourself and never think you're not good enough." Are there athletes who think that somehow they don't measure up? I thought that when you're an athlete you have to have that confidence going into the game. Am I wrong about that too?
A. Well, I'm not gonna to say you're wrong about that. There's certain things that trigger a certain person to excel in a certain fashion. Now, I play guard, forward and center throughout my whole basketball career. So, by playing forward, by playing center I have developed a certain leadership quality, that I'm accustomed to and I feed off of that. But, I have played with certain ballplayers that could not be a point guard. They needed me to be able to distribute the ball to them at a time and place when they can maximize all their skills. That's why I love basketball so much, because it's a team sport. Football is a team sport. That statement was made as an inspirational statement to young kids because a lot of people say I can't play basketball because I'm short. Because you're short doesn't mean you can't play basketball. That means that you still can play basketball. Look at Avery Johnson. He's got to be around five-ten, five-eleven.

Q. How tall are you?
A. I'm six-eight. Avery Johnson is my cousin. He is an exceptional basketball player. So, that statement is basically used to inspire young people, to let them know, that if you believe in yourself, and put forth the right effort, you can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish.

Q. What is this Billy Ray Hobley Sports Academy you're building in New Orleans all about?
A. You know, I made a promise to myself that if I ever became successful, there are two things I would never forget, where I came from, and I would give back. When I went to Dillard University, I wanted to be a coach. That's why I went there. By working hard, and trying hard, God blessed me to be able to get a shot at becoming a Globetrotter, or getting a shot at playing basketball on that professional level. But, that was not my goal. My first goal was to get an education. This sports academy that I'm building is going to inspire young people about education.

It's going to inspire them about becoming a good citizen. It's going to inspire them how, whatever their dream might be, that it can happen.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved