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Harlem Globetrotter charms Duluth

Flip White, who's been with the exhibition team for a decade, visited the Zenith City in advance of the team's Saturday show at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Flip White, wearing Harlem Globetrotter warmup suit, holds basketball between his legs as he leans down to speak with crowd of children.
Flip White, a Harlem Globetrotter, talked with Duluth children during a March 8 visit to the Lincoln Park Branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — As Flip White stood on Tuesday, March 8, outside the studios of CBS 3 Duluth and KBJR-TV looking out over Canal Park, he reminisced about the dozens of places he's visited around the world. Dubai. Australia. Spain. Israel. France.

"I've been to the Louvre. I've seen the Eiffel Tower," he said.

It's all part of the job when you spend a decade playing with the Harlem Globetrotters, the iconic exhibition team known for their goofy humor and scintillating skills. Also part of the job: doing press.

Inside the CBS studio, a producer asked White if he'd brought a basketball. "I don't leave home without it," said the Globetrotter, reaching into his bag and producing a ball in the team's signature red, white and blue color scheme.

White was in town for a promotional visit ahead of the Globetrotters' Saturday, March 19, appearance at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. He recorded segments on both TV stations, demonstrating his ability to transfer a spinning basketball from his finger to a host's — even one with long fingernails, like Jenna Wells of CBS 3.

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"Big kids can have fun, too," said White as Wells and meteorologist Peter Kvietkauskas laughed in astonishment.

Little kids weren't to be forgotten: After making the rounds of local TV and radio stations, White made a stop at the Lincoln Park Branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland, where he demonstrated tricks and shared life lessons for the benefit of about 30 local children.

White, who lives with his family in Tulsa, took the press tour in stride. To meet local reporters in the many markets where the team travels, "they send in the heavy hitters," he said with a smile.

He's used to telling the story of how he got started with the Globetrotters. The avid young basketball player was introduced to his future team first by his grandparents, who took him to a game, and then by the "Scooby-Doo" TV cartoons, where the Globetrotters' animated avatars have occasionally guested.

Flip White, in Harlem Globetrotters track suit, spins basketball on the finger of a man wearing a business suit.
Flip White of the Harlem Globetrotters demonstrated basketball tricks with meteorologist Peter Kvietkauskas of CBS 3 Duluth.
Contributed / Lucie Amundsen for the DECC

White ultimately made the team on the strength of a YouTube video showcasing his 47-inch jump height. Ten years and six months later, he said: "I'm still going strong."

Duluthians seemed to take it in stride that a Harlem Globetrotter sporting the team's stylish warmup suit was strolling through the skywalk on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday morning. In fact, the Globetrotters are no strangers to Duluth: They're regulars at the DECC, where they appeared annually in the years immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic pause.

As he strolled the skywalk, White peered down at the Duluth Curling Club ice and later pointed to the Greenery Café, a coffee stop during a previous Holiday Inn sojourn. "Globetrotters turned me into a morning person," explained White, whose Zenith City rounds started before sunrise. "You have to learn how to turn it on and turn it off."

White, who drove to Duluth after doing press in the Twin Cities, said he enjoys building energy with interviewers, especially on TV. Radio hosts can get a little "monotone," he said, but that wasn't a problem on KQDS, where White and DECC communications director Lucie Amundsen bantered casually with hosts Jason Manning and Hunter McCullough.

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On air, Manning remembered trying and failing to emulate Globetrotters great Fred "Curly" Neal. "Curly was bald," Manning said for the benefit of anyone who didn't know. "That's why they called him Curly. He could spin the basketball on his head."

"Curly was legendary," agreed White, explaining that the Globetrotters' current Spread Game Tour is a tribute to Neal. "He was on the team for 22 years. His number was 22. It's the year 2022."

White, a father of four, told KBJR his favorite part of the job is "seeing the smiles on the kids' and the parents' faces when we come in the arena and they hear our music, that 'Sweet Georgia Brown,' playing. We come out and have some fun; I just enjoy their smiles."

There were plenty of smiles in evidence at the Boys and Girls Club, where branch director Jon Phipps was as excited as the kids. "When the Globetrotters came to town when I was a little kid," he said, "I got to go with my family one time, and got to see them put on a show with the entire team at the DECC."

The experience spurred Phipps's interest in basketball, which he went on to play competitively in high school. "They're great at what they do in their craft," he said. "But when they're out there, they're just having fun with it."

Harlem Globetrotter Flip White stands smiling, holding basketball, amid crowd of children posing for group photo.
Harlem Globetrotter Flip White posed for a photo with Duluth children during a March 8 visit to the Lincoln Park Branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

Not all the after school program participants quite knew what to make of White when he arrived. "Are you a basketball player?" asked one kid, looking down at the six-foot Globetrotter's red high-top sneakers. White smiled and nodded.

When the children were gathered, White asked for a show of hands to see who'd heard of the Harlem Globetrotters. Only a few said they had. After a quick history lesson, White took to the court to demonstrate his agility and teach the kids a few tricks.

As White encouraged volunteers to pass basketballs under their legs and bump the balls off their backsides, a concerned-looking little boy sitting on the bench in a Spider-Man hoodie raised his hand with a rhetorical question. "What if you're a younger kid and this is hard for you?"

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Everyone grows up. After the dunks and shooting matches, White stayed to chat with the kids and explain that ten joint-addling years on the team mean his own days of professional stunting are numbered. "Enjoy your body right now," he said to his school-aged audience.

For now, though, White's still got it. "Can you do a flip?" one voice called from the bench.

White responded by casually making an airborne backwards somersault. "Why do you think they call me Flip?"

Flip White, wearing Harlem Globetrotters warmup suit, leans forward as he helps a smiling young girl spin a basketball on her finger.
Flip White of the Harlem Globetrotters helped a Duluth child spin a basketball during a March 8 visit to the Lincoln Park Branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

The Harlem Globetrotters will perform at the DECC on Saturday, March 19, at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at decc.org.

READ MORE BY JAY GABLER
Katie Switzer, All Tomorrow's Petty, The Crunchy Bunch and of course, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, will play the free Bayfront Festival Park event.

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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