"Supertrotter" Billy Ray Hobley Interview
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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,
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.
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