Buckets Blakes can literally do anything he wants with a basketball, whether it’s making it spin, making shots from halfcourt or doing fancy dribbling tricks.
But he and his fellow Harlem Globetrotters are as helpless with the weather as the rest of us.
Two days before he was scheduled to be in Nashville for a publicity appearance in advance of a visit by the Globetrotters to Municipal Auditorium on Friday, Blakes had been stranded in 18-below zero weather in Moline, Ill., for a couple of days.
“I’ve been searching for food,” Blakes said during a phone interview earlier this week. “Now I understand why squirrels store up food for the winter.”
This type of weather was foreign to Blakes when he was growing up in Phoenix, Ariz. But he’s more than made up for it, first with a college basketball career at Wyoming and - after stints in the Continental Basketball Association, the Developmental League and Europe - during a 12-season run with the Globetrotters which has seen him dribbling, spinning and shooting his way through 74 countries on and off every continent except Antarctica.
The weather is one reason the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder is playing basketball professionally after also playing football and running track in high school.
“I chose basketball because of what’s going on now, the weather,” said Blakes, 37. “You can always play. It’s always indoors.
“Basketball was the best decision I ever made because now I’m on the world’s greatest team.”
Playing as Anthony Blakes at Wyoming, he led the Cowboys in rebounding, assists and steals as a junior and, as a senior, was one of two Mountain West Conference players to finish in the top 15 in scoring, rebounding and assists.
He said the Globetrotters sought him out.
“When I got back from Europe, the Globetrotters called me out of the blue two days later,” he said. “I went and a tryout with them and I’ve been with them every since.”
He also picked up a court name, Buckets. “I can make a lot of buckets in a hurry,” he explained.
The Globetrotters began in the 1920s as a team focused on playing serious basketball with the emphasis on winning. They beat the Minneapolis Lakers, champions of the forerunner of the NBA, in an epic 1948 game in Chicago.
But the rise of the NBA began to eclipse the Globetrotters, who started working comic routines and showmanship into their games until their appearances became known more for its entertainment value than competition.
But Blakes said there is pressure even in having fun with the Globetrotters.
“It’s going from winning as the objective to honestly trying to make every shot you take every night,” Blakes said. “It’s a transition of learning how to turn it on and turn it off.”
There are 28 players on three Globetrotter teams – the Red, White and Blue [Blakes will be with the Blue team in Nashville for the 7 p.m. exhibition]. The team is early in a 300-stop tour across 250 cities across North America [the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico] which began Dec. 26 and will run through April. Other seasons of the year are dedicated to touring other continents. The organization finished a tour of military bases in Europe just before Christmas.
The trio of teams have run up winning streaks in the thousands and, despite losing to U.S college teams in exhibitions in recent seasons, has a winning percentage of over 98 percent.
“We definitely can be competitive in any professional league,” Blakes said of playing seriously in pro leagues. “Just like any new team, that type of thing would take an adjustment.
“We’re all professional athletes. We were top athletes in our colleges.”
But games against straight men like the Washington Generals are not staged, Blakes hinted.
“The other players are playing defense and trying to stop us,” Blakes said. “Our fans expect us not to miss and that’s even more pressure.
“Shooting is all about confidence. When you knock them down, they love you to death. They love you even when you miss, but when you make them, they really love you because you’re making some difficult shots.”
Preparing to play as a Globetrotter takes many of the same basketball drills – dribbling and shooting – as all players do. But there are preparations off the court as well.
“You want to polish up on your public speaking skills more than anything,” Blakes said, noting players are often sent on speaking engagements and interviews. “As a player, I get a chance to train some of the younger players. They’ll shadow me when I do some public events stuff. I’ll do a mock interview with them.”
Then there are the public appearances, some 400 of them, many with kids in hospitals and schools.
“You get that opportunity to give back,” Blakes said. “It’s a great feeling. When I visit a school, my goal is to get my message across, and if a couple of them get my message, they will be my messengers after I leave.”