The world famous Harlem Globetrotters are part theater, part comedy act and all basketball. We caught up with 5-foot-8 guard Kenny “The Blenda” Rodriguez not long before the Globetrotters packed Matthew Knight Arena on Feb. 24 to entertain thousands.
How did you become a Harlem Globetrotter?
After high school I took a four-year break from basketball, but then I came back, playing street ball in New York and doing halftime shows. What got me onto the Harlem Globetrotters was a guy by the name of Black Jack Ron, a street-ball legend known all over New York. He got a call from one of the agents, and the agent asked him if he knew any talent in New York, and he told them about me.
So, a scout called me and asked for a highlight video, I sent the video over to Phoenix, Ariz. and next thing I know they say I look good, but they want to make sure I can really do all the stuff I did in the video — make sure there’s no trick photography. So they invited me to Houston, Texas, with 10 other guys for a two-day tryout.
It was intense — people think Globetrotters are all about the tricks, but they looked for the tricks at the end. First they make sure you’re a good ballplayer. Within 30 minutes I twisted my ankle. They taped it up and I was out there limping, thinking I wasn’t going to make it. But I think they saw that I didn’t give up, and they liked my energy. And ever since then, in 2007, I’ve been a Globetrotter.
So, why do they call you “The Blenda?”
‘Cause I make smoothies out of defenders and I shake people up on the court.
Are all of the games scripted? Is it predetermined that you guys are going to win by a certain amount of points? How does that work?
No, no, we never know how much we are going to win by, or if we’re going to lose. People don’t know: we’ve lost a total of 345 games. But we’ve won 24,000 in the 86 years we’ve been around. We try to get a 10-point lead over our opponents and then we bring the tricks in.
So all theatrics aside, the teams you’re playing against are seriously trying to beat you guys?
Yeah, sometimes they have to fall back, like when we grab kids from the audience to do skits and stuff. They know they have to lay back for a minute and let us put on a show. But they’re trying to beat us.
How do the Globetrotters relate to the NBA?
Well, a lot of NBA players now were motivated to play ball by seeing a Globetrotter game. Or they saw us on TV, on Gilligan’s Island or Fat Albert. I recently had a chance to be on Sesame Street, and I remember being a kid and seeing the Globetrotters on Sesame Street. It was pretty cool to hang out with Elmo.
What’s the best part about being a Globetrotter?
Traveling. I’ve been to 40 countries. I can’t remember them all right now, but to mention a few — Italy, Belgium, the U.K., China, Japan, Bosnia, Turkey. Basketball is a universal language, and wherever we go people understand our antics.