The Watershed Moment
As he jogged onto the court and joined his teammates, I stood frozen and slack-jawed. I couldn't believe what I was seeing
My daughter's third grade class was recently given a homework assignment. The assignment called for each student to write an essay about a significant moment that had occured in their life.
This homework assignment triggered much discussion and introspection around our family dinner table at night. It allowed us to ponder which singular moment from our life we each deemed most significant and life changing. For my wife, it was very hard for her to narrow it down to just one moment. The birth of her daughter? The death of her mother? Passing the bar exam? All significant moments. Narrowing it down to one proved to be an impossible task.
My decision wasn't nearly as difficult.
On February 13th 2004 I went to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was there that I saw Seth Franco for the very first time. Forever etched into my memory as if it happened just yesterday, that indelible moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.
As a young boy growing up on the leafy and bucolic streets of Westchester County in the late 1970s, I idolized the Harlem Globetrotters. In fact, my dream was to one day become a Globetrotter. Unfortunately, I'm white, and at that time in our nation's history the Globetrotters were not racially integrated. This blatant prejudice bothered me greatly. Oh sure, I knew I could grow up to be President of IBM or even President of the United States, but no matter how skilled I would become with a basketball, my Globetrotter dream would never be allowed to come to fruition. It ate away at me, and sadly, I became very bitter. To make matters even worse, in some cruel twist of irony, my house was only 10 miles from Harlem. "Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor" I would frequently shout out to no one in particular as I cried myself to sleep on many a night.
To give me hope, some of my older relatives would regale me with stories about a white man who did actually once play for the Globetrotters in the early 1940s. My relatives meant well, but hearing about one lone white player from nearly 40 years earlier didn't give me hope, it just made me feel more angry. I figured the Globetrotter executives probably used this one white player as an excuse for their racism. We gave a white player a chance and he couldn't cut it", I imagined them saying.
I wondered about this white player. Was he was treated like a serious member of the team, or was he simply looked upon as a freaky sideshow attraction? Did he get to throw the confetti-filled bucket, or was he there solely to be gawked at like the bearded lady at a circus? As fate would have it, no footage of him existed. At 12 years old, disillussioned, full of rage, and resigned to the reality of the situation, I lost all interest in the Globetrotters and stopped following them for the better part of 30 years.
Fast forward to February 13th, 2004. The Trotters were in town. With my daughter recently being born, I was happy and in a very forgiving mood. I decided to attend the game.
Inside Madison Square Garden, the Globetrotters were introduced one by one to thunderous applause by the capacity crowd. One of the last players introduced was Seth Franco, the squad's newest member. As he jogged onto the court and joined his teammates, I stood frozen and slack-jawed. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Seth Franco was WHITE.
I looked around at the other faces in the crowd. While they didn't show it on the outside (they were smiling and laughing), I assumed underneath they were experiencing the same feeling of shock and exhilaration that I was. At that moment I remember only two thoughts going through my head; one: was this real or just a dream?, and two: God, please let him be good. Then the game started AND...... to borrow a line from Seinfeld, Seth Franco was real and he was spectacular!
The kid dribbled just like Curly Neal. He was fast and smooth, had a great outside shot, and was a lockdown defender. He more than fit in, in fact, he was arguably the best player on the team! When the game was over (a Globetrotters win), I sat down and sobbed for about 10 minutes. Unlike the tears from my childhood, these were tears of happiness.
The next day I took a leave of absence from work and followed Seth Franco and the Globetrotters for the remainder of their 2004 tour. I won't lie. Missing the first few months of my newborn baby's life was hard for me, but it was something I needed to do. I needed to cheer and support Seth Franco both for me and for all the other white children like me that were never allowed to chase their own Globetrotter dreams. I needed closure.
Seth did not disappoint. From city to city and arena to arena, he took the country by storm. It was the watershed moment. Our hero didn't just knock on the door, he kicked the damn thing down and forced both the small-minded and the racists among us to judge him solely on his basketball talent and not at all by the color of his skin. He was accepted, and by being accepted he paved the way for all future white children. While it was too late for me, there was now no reason why these other children couldn't realistically chase their own Globetrotter dreams.
Last week I took my daughter to her first Globetrotters game. I smiled as I noticed two white players on the team. The fact that my daughter thought nothing of it made me smile even more.