Dwayne “Swoop” Simpson Interview
(The Harlem Wizards)
He was a member of The Harlem Globetrotters.
He was a member of The Harlem Rockets.
Today he’s a member of The Harlem Wizards.
He is Dwayne “Swoop” Simpson or “Swoop” for short.
Performing at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, N.Y. “Swoop” talked to us between shows.
Q – You left the Harlem Globetrotters for The Harlem Wizards.
A – Right.
Q – Why did you do that?
A – Well, it was kind of a joint decision because I had a very successful tour with them. Towards the end of the tour we had a showman’s camp in the summertime. It’s basically about the showman, like the Marcel’s, and these Special K’s. They felt like I wasn’t in the top tier. I didn’t feel that way. I kind of said to myself, I’m a pretty funny guy and there are other teams that felt I was pretty funny. Todd Davis and The Harlem Wizards was one of those teams. It was either I could sit there and wait, right until they kind of felt I was in the top tier or I could go and hone my skills and become a better showman and be funnier.
Q – You mean to tell me, that The Harlem Globetrotters do not have some kind of course, or instructor telling you how to be funny or what to say?
A – No. It’s a personality thing. It’s definitely a personality. I tell people all the time, you cannot think this. You can’t just come out and be personable and funny and mesh it all together. It might have been God has a lot of things in store for me. It might have been one of these things that he had in store for me. Growing up I was a class clown. I was always involved in things. I was funny. I was personable. I loved the game of basketball. Now, when it came to my adult life I was able to face these two things together it wasn’t faked. It wasn’t forced. It was just something natural. You learn the shtick, right? But, you can’t perform these things unless you’ve got that. A guy like Tex Harrison, he was actually with The Harlem Globetrotters 54 years. When I first had my interview with him to become a Harlem Globetrotter I sat down with him and he said to me, ‘Son, you’ve got it’. You’ve got whatever it is. I’ve roomed with Meadowlark Lemon for 20 something years. You’ve got that thing. During that time Paul Gaffney, he was with the Harlem Globetrotters for 15 years. Special K was there for about 6 years. And it was my 1st year. In order to be a headliner, there’s only two top showmen and two basically filler guys that fill during the third quarter. I was at the bottom of the totem pole. For me, in hindsight, would I have rather waited? I don’t know. It’s still a tough decision now. What I love to do most is go out there and entertain people. I’m an entertainer. So, do I want to sit on the sideline and just wait? No. I don’t want to do that.
Q – The Globetrotters would pay you to sit on the sidelines and travel with them?
A – Yeah.
Q – How would you get to be a showman if you weren’t participating?
A – Exactly. That was my whole thing. When I had my meeting with them I said, ‘I want to be out there. I want to be honing my skills. I want to get better’. The crowds are great. It’s a great organization. Everything about it is great, but, for me it was play now or not. (Laughs). Were they gonna give me an opportunity to play now? They weren’t. When Todd Davis and The Harlem Wizards gave me an opportunity to do something I love so much, play basketball and entertain people, ,make people smile and laugh, that’s the biggest factor in making a decision for me.
Q – Before the Harlem Globetrotters you were a member of the Harlem Rockets?
A – Yes. That’s where it all began.
Q – I’ve never heard of the Harlem Rockets.
A – It’s basically a smaller facet of The Harlem Wizards. We did about 150 games or so. We traveled in the New England area, doing the same thing as the Harlem Globetrotters, just like The Wizards. We helped schools raise money for different organizations, charities. At that point in my career I was very raw. Just like you I had never heard of The Harlem Rockets. I was never a big fan of The Harlem Globetrotters. Growing up I was just a straight basketball player. I was like a junkyard player. I went out there, dove on the floor, played the game. I loved the game of basketball. I was never into doing tricks. I was never overly fancy or boisterous or anything like that. I was just a regular basketball player. It never dawned on me that one day I would be able to be a trick basketball player. When I got to the Harlem Rockets I met a guy named Ricky Lopes. He saw my personality off the court. All I would do is catch ally-oops and dunk the ball. That’s why I was called ‘Swoop’ when I was in high school. I was able to jump around. I was a high-flying young man. So, he said, ‘You’re a pretty funny guy’. Another one of my teammates Donny Seal said to me, ‘If you want to create longevity for yourself, you got to hone some of these skills: learn these tricks, learn how to bring your personality onto the basketball court’. I just started going out there, trying different things and entertain a crowd. It just worked for me. It felt good. It felt natural. I became pretty good at it. That’s when The Globetrotters called me. I think it was 2 years later. I got a phone call from Henry Clark. He said, ‘We’re having these try-outs out here in Illinois, C’mon out here. See how everything works out. You’ll get an opportunity to talk to Tex Harrison. He’ll look over some of you stuff and see if you fit. And, if you fit, you’ll talk to Manny Jackson, interview with him and if it works out he’ll put you on the team’.
Q – When did you start playing basketball?
A – I started playing basketball when I was in the 4th grade.
Q – You were selected to an All Star Team in high school.
A – Yes.
Q – Then you went to Southern Connecticut State University.
A – Yes.
Q – I imagine when you made the All Star Team, a flood of offers came in from colleges.
A – Yeah.
Q – How did you decide what college you would attend? What went into that decision making process?
A – I committed early, before my senior year began. You have that option before you senior year begins to commit to a school. So what happened for me was I attended Five Star between my junior and senior year. Five Star is a basketball camp, a famous basketball camp. A lot of famous basketball players went there. Before that camp, I was basically unknown. I was never a star basketball player. I didn’t score 40 or 50 points a game. My starting five were four Division One players. They went off to Manhattan, St. Bonaventure, Florida, Atlantic. All these different basketball schools they went to. I was the other guy. (Laughs). The tall, lanky guy that just worked hard and played basketball. I went to Five Star and actually did pretty well out there. Some Division Two colleges approached me. Smaller Division one colleges. I was actually recruited from a school right here in Syracuse, LeMoyne College. I actually came up here for my recruiting visit during that time. I decided I wanted to commit early ‘cause I didn’t know how my senior year was gonna go, and I was on a team with pretty good basketball players. I said, While I’m still here and they’re offering me a full scholarship – I took it. (Laughs).
Q – And you graduated?
A – Yes.
Q – Not all players do graduate.
A – Its tough.
Q – I always wondered how do you guys study when you’re on the road. You’re like rock stars. It’s on to a plane, into a hotel, and off to an arena and the process keeps going on and on.
A – Being a student athlete is very, very tough. For me, my major was computer science.
Q – Did you have tutors on the road?
A – We weren’t on the road as much as a D1 school. Most of our games were on the Atlantic Coast. We would make it back to class. We didn’t have a lot of mid-week games, one game on Thursday, most of the time, but, mostly weekends, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So, our schedule wasn’t as demanding. A lot of the guys I went to high school with were big D1. I talked with ‘em on the phone, kept in touch with ‘em. They all said the same thing-----it’s tough. You have to have tutors. You have to constantly be on your school work. If you don’t, you just fall. You gotta maintain a certain grade point average to play basketball. It’s very, very tough.
Q – You were called a “lunch pail player” because you did all the hard work, all the little things to help a team win.
A – Right. You know your guys like Dennis Rodmans, your Jerome Williams, they play hard defense, dive on the floor, all that good stuff. Re-bound the ball. You usually don’t hear about star players that do all the dirty stuff. The star players are the ones that look fancy, come out there and score the baskets. Those are the star players, the marquee players. The lunch pail players are usually the guys do all the intangible things. They set the screens, re-bound, down on the floor, get all the hustle plays. That’s what I did. Not afraid to do it, ‘cause I loved the game. And for me, not always being the best basketball player, ‘cause I wasn’t, but I loved the game. I wanted to play. And, in order to play the game you had to play it right and you gotta play it hard. So you gotta get up there and somebody’s gotta do it. My coach would say, ‘Who’s gonna be the one who comes diving out on the floor? Who’s gonna be the one to get that last re-bound when we need to secure the win’? And – I was that guy. That’s why I played in high school. That’s why I played in college. That’s why I was successful.
Q – Will there come a day when you will say I don’t want to do this anymore?
A – Right now, mentally, I love what I do. I really, really love it. Physically, if I can’t run up and down the court anymore then I guess I would have to (give it up). When I stop having fun and I physically can’t do it anymore; I work in computer science. I work in hospitals doing technical support, helping people with computers. The passion and love for that is not there for me. I enjoyed it, I figured it would be lucrative. But, I find what I enjoy most in life is being a role model to these kids. When I see how we impact kids on a day to day basis. Their smiles that we give them, how we bring families together. It’s so rewarding for yourself. People don’t think how rewarding it can be to you as a role model to be rewarding to these kids. You look at these kids and you say to yourself I’m doing some good in this world. That’s something I want to continue if I can’t do this anymore. I’ve looked into becoming a teacher. They have different arts programs that you can go get certified, for a summer. They’re not a lot of teachers in the urban communities. So, I want to go into the urban communities and teach a little bit. Maybe do a little bit of coaching. Help kids learn to play the game the right way. Coaching, teaching is definitely something I want to do when I’m finished here. You can’t do it forever.
Q – Every community could use a Harlem Wizards basketball team to go around and get kids off the street, especially in the summer.
A – Of course.
Q – And stop the stabbings, fights and shootings.
A – Yes.
Q – In the end, right before they’re sentenced they always say I’m sorry.
A – Yeah. They don’t understand the implications of their actions. I grew up in a fairly rough area. I’ve seen things in my lifetime. I’ve seen guys go to jail and come back home. And nobody has ever said to me, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life’. (Laughs). They don’t say that. They come back and they say, ‘I’ve made a mistake. I’m not living the right way’. We need to get those people out there saying, ‘Look, this is not the right decision’. Change your life. Because of the decision I made when I was younger I can’t get a job. I’m stuck now. You gotta find ways. Finding ways to get kids on the right track-----we all gotta do it. Basketball players. Guys who’ve been through it. Role models. We all gotta come back into the community and show kids there’s another way and the cool thing is not to shoot people, not to stab people, not to be thugs, not to be gangsters, but to be successful, to be educated. That’s why I applaud (President) Obama so much. A lot of people turn their nose up at him, but he says, ‘We got to get out there and be accountable’. And that’s what we have to do. We all have to be accountable, and say, ‘Hey kid you’re doing the wrong thing. Get on the right road. Do the right thing’.
Q – There aren’t enough people who care.
A – Everybody cares about themselves and we ought to stop that, that selfish attitude and start to care about each other. It sounds so chiche, but, when you do that the world will be a better place.
Official website: www.harlemwizards.com
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