[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I used to play for a traveling basketball team called the Harlem Ambassadors.
The Ambassadors were billed as a “show basketball” team, similar to the Harlem Globetrotters (but the COSTCO version). We traveled to small, obscure cities all across America, the kind of places where locals would never see live NBA games. We brought our team, and the local organization that had hired us would assemble their own team of retired players, school teachers, mayors, weathermen, and other local small town celebrities.
Though we were playing basketball and (mostly) following the rules of the sport, our main goal wasn’t to win each game; the goal was entertainment and fun for the audience and opponents. We played, at the most, one full quarter of actual competitive basketball, followed by three quarters of choreographed skits and dances that involved ourselves, young kids pulled out of the audience, and in-on-the-joke opponents with some basketball mixed in. We had planned routines at the end of each quarter that ended in sure slam dunks to ensure actual basketball excitement as well.
Upon signing me, the Ambassadors brought me to a training camp in Colorado where we learned our skits and routines and… dunked. We (the dunking players; we had a few non-dunkers who did most of the in-game dribbling) dunked a lot in that training camp. I had to start taping up my hands for games because of the blisters I’d developed from grabbing the rim so often. The dunks were, basically, the only basketball shot that the Ambassadors wanted to be sure I could make; after all, that was the only basketball play that we planned on for each game. If, in each of a game’s four quarters, we nailed all our skits and dance routines and made the one quarter-ending dunk, the game was considered a success.
One teammate of mine, a guy who had the same serious-basketball ambitions that I had, after one game shared a realization: “I’m not even a ball player no more. I’m an actor.”
He was pretty much right.
Not everyone on this Ambassadors team was trying to go play real basketball somewhere; some of them were treating the job as they would any other job — this one just happened to require them to do skits on a basketball court a few times per week.
We’d sometimes have days off while traveling, and one of our captains would find a gym for us to go to and play “normal” basketball, with dribbling and shooting and all that. At 23, with my career ambitions on my mind, I was always excited for these pickup game days and, via my game, always impressed. After our first such day of playing regular ball three weeks into our tour, my teammate G pulled me aside and told me some things.
I knew G had been playing in Mexico, but G wasn’t a big talker and mostly kept to himself. I didn’t know much about him. After we’d played that day, though, G told me how he was headed back to Mexico in a few weeks, and that he wanted to put me on down there.
And he did.
For Your Game
- We had been playing our “show basketball” for weeks by the time we played that first day of pickup basketball, and G had never mentioned anything to me about Mexico until he saw me play (normal ball). We had never even had a conversation about anything before that day, actually. I didn’t know what G’s situation was, and I didn’t know G had the resources to connect me with a playing opportunity. Had I not played well in those “meaningless” pickup games, I never would’ve found out.
- To me, the Harlem Ambassadors gig was, at best, and stopgap job — somewhere to collect a paycheck until I got back to my real basketball life, kind of how an actress works as a waitress between movie and TV show auditions. We were playing in these small-ass towns that had nothing to offer other than shitty motels (where we stayed) and Walmarts. I thought of my time there as a period for me to figure out what the hell I was gonna do next for basketball (and I really didn’t know what that would be). It wasn’t a place I expected to be scouted or discovered by anyone who could do anything for me. And, had I not had my game in order, that’s exactly what it would have been.
- People sometimes tell me they’re not getting proper exposure, or that there’s no potential for exposure where they live. Bullshit. Exposure is happening every day, every single moment you’re publicly visible — online or in person. If nothing is happening for you, maybe it’s your performance / presentation that’s the problem.
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