By Rhett Register, assistant researcher at National Geographic Traveler magazine.
“Globetrotter” is a descriptor that gets thrown around a lot in travel writing, so when I saw that the Harlem Globetrotters were in town it occurred to me to ask what tips a real Globetrotter might have for travelers — especially tall ones like myself. Here’s what I learned.
First off, they live up to their name. When I caught up with center Kevin “Special K” Daley and guard Herbert “Flight Time” Lang at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., they were a few months in to a U.S. tour that began on Christmas Day. And when they’re finished with that, they’ll be heading to Europe for another tour. Many players spend almost three quarters of the year on the road, spreading laughter and awe through basketball.
Rhett Register: It seems like airline seating areas are always shrinking. I’m 6’5” and I know I have no room. What do y’all do?
Flight Time: Luckily, we’re not all centers. I’m normal sized (6’ 3”) but I always try to get an emergency exit row. I never sit in the middle. That’s too tight.
Special K: A lot of times, if first class isn’t full, they will put us up there. Sometimes an autographed wristband or something like that helps out. Also, fortunately, we go by seniority.
RR: What is the longest trip that you make — and how do you cope?
SK:Australia. It’s great when we get there, but that is a long flight. I try not to sleep beforehand so that I can sleep on the flight as much as possible. I also make sure that the iPad is charged and full of reading material and games for when I am awake.
"Flight Time" Lang helps out a little fan courtside. (Photo courtesy Mark Buckner/Harlem Globetrotters)
RR: What was your favorite or most life-changing travel experience?
FT: On the USS Theodore Roosevelt — an aircraft carrier out in the middle of the Persian Gulf. I love playing for the military. They cleared the bottom deck and then lowered us down through the ceiling. It was like it was Super Bowl half time. There were three or four thousand troops in there cheering. The next day, leaving, we got to experience the catapult – a slingshot that shoots the plane right off the deck.
SK: Mine is Panama, when I played in front of my country for the first time as a Globetrotter. Everybody from my neighborhood and my school was there. I got to meet and speak with the president. But besides that, I would have to say China. I’m a suit guy. One of the best parts of going to China is that you can get suits made to order. Also, basketball is big there. I think Yao Ming was quoted as saying he was inspired to play basketball after seeing the Globetrotters.
RR: I’ve got big feet, so I’m especially interested to hear what you say about this one. It seems like shoes take up a lot of room in my luggage. Any tips?
SK: Keep it minimal. I only take three pair. I take my basketball shoes, my walking-around shoes, and my all-purpose shoes. Still we do rack up some additional luggage fees.
RR: What do you do to cope with being away from your family for such long periods of time?
SK: I feel lucky; I mean, many people in the military are away for much longer than we are. Also, I feel proud of what we do, so even though I’m away [for so long], it’s for a good reason.
FT: Skype, Facetime, and the iPhone all help a lot. It’s amazing how much communication is changing. Thirteen years ago, when I started, I didn’t even have a cell phone. Now I can be overseas and know exactly what’s going on back home.
RR: What do you do about jet lag?
SK: Sometimes we play and then I stay up all night. I guess just try and go to sleep at your normal time. If you have to, take some NyQuil.
RR: Do you have any other travel tips?
FT: Get a copy of your passport and keep it in a safe place. Know where the embassy is. Also, be cautious when exchanging money. I see all these people going to the first one [they see] when they get off the plane. Get outside the gate, outside of security, and you will get a better rate. Oh, and also always have cash — that’s important.
SK: Learn about the culture. Learn a few words. Try anything once. Oh, here’s an eating tip – the best waffles ever are in Belgium. They are a little different than the “Belgian waffles” you get here, but they’re great. You don’t even need syrup.
Learn more about the Globetrotters, and see where they’re playing next at www.harlemglobetrotters.com