HINCKLEY – The Harlem Globetrotters barnstormed their way back to where it all began.
The famous traveling team returned to Hinckley on Thursday night, returning to play in the local town 89 years to the date that they played there in their first road game in the history of the organization.
"It's coming back to their roots," said Jerry Bahl, who is a member of the Hinckley Historical Society. "We know we stretch a long ways because every article on the Globetrotters talk about how they started out in Hinckley."
The Globetrotters, an iconic team that brings a blend of basketball and entertainment, played their first road game ever in Hinckley on January 7, 1927, and provided a new sign to the community on the east side of the high school campus as part of their 90th anniversary tour.
"You never forget where you come from, you got to remember that," said Sweet Lou Dunbar, a long-time member of the Globetrotters who now acts as the coach during the performance. "We all come from small beginnings and that's what made the Harlem Globetrotters, playing right here in Hinckley. Somebody asked me about playing to a smaller crowd, and that's what we're about. It's much more personal. People see what we're doing and to know it started here, it's real special."
Bahl had a better look of the Globetrotters on Thursday than he had when they last visited in Hinckley. When they came to the small town in 2001, Bahl was helping park cars in the parking lot and watched the game on a monitor outside. On Thursday, he sat courtside next to the team – even being presented with a game ball before the contest.
"This is much better than going to the movies, isn't it?" he said before the game with a wide smile. "(The kids) love it. It's something you can't really do in your own gym. They might learn something from somebody."
The performance on Thursday lived up to everything the Globetrotters are known for. It featured breakdancing, alley-oops, fancy dribbling and plenty of comedy sprinkled throughout the night. Unlike the first time the Globetrotters came to Hinckley, they won on the night. In 1927, the Hinckley Merchants came away with a 43-34 victory.
However, the opponents on Thursday – the World All-Stars – were plenty up to the task of playing the heel, especially coach Reggie Harrison. Speaking to the crowd before the game, Harrison referenced the All-Stars would take down the Globetrotters before bringing a jab to the local professional sports scene.
"Like the Bears of the 1980s and the Bulls of the 1990s, all good things must come to an end," he said before the crowd caught on and showered him with boos.
Hinckley-Big Rock athletic director Bill Sambrookes said the event began when the Globetrotters reached out to him in February of last year. The contract was eventually signed in the summer and he credited the people around him – including athletic secretaries Jen Porter and Debbie Murphy – for having the event go off with only a few missteps.
"When they asked me to do it and when my principal asked me if it was something I wanted to take on, I knew it would be a huge event and everybody would appreciate it," said Sambrookes, who said 1,060 tickets were sold for the event. "For me, I never orchestrated something this big before. I knew it would be something I could learn from.
"Monday and Tuesday were horrible because I had all these details that had to be tied up. "Wednesday it was like I could sit at my desk and organize everything. This morning it was just waiting for this afternoon."
For the current Hinckley-Big Rock basketball players, they frequently play in the gym that holds a banner that commemorates hosting the first road game for the Globetrotters in 1927. Even the floor has a message painted about it. However, frequently seeing the banner has made them ignore it, a few of them said.
However, Thursday night – with the Globetrotters in the gym – was different.
"It seems weird that our little town has the Globetrotters," senior Hinckley-Big Rock basketball player Ben Harrison said. "It's really cool. I've watched videos of them on YouTube and now they're here."
Well before the pomp and circumstance of the game, the Globetrotters also unveiled a new sign that now tells any passing car about Hinckley's claim to a piece of American history.
"For a kid in Hinckley, Illinois, 90 years ago, maybe he saw the Harlem Globetrotters and said, 'You know what? A team that big comes to my town, I'm going to dream big,' " said Big Easy Lofton, who played the role of ringleader of the basketball circus on Thursday.
For Sambrookes, he noticed the span of generations in the packed crowd. The crowd was a mixture of laughing children, teenagers taking pictures with their phone, adults smiling at the comedy and grandparents laughing right along with the children.
"There's young adults here, 20 or 25-years-old who were here 15 years ago as kids and now they have kids and they're bringing them to the game," Sambrookes said of the 2001 game. "There's parents, grandparents and grandkids watching together. They're sharing the experience. We're fortunate to have it come through."