Globetrotter opens new vistas for students
"Flight Time" made the kids feel they were big time.
Whether handing out school supplies in the classroom or demonstrating improbable trick shots in the gym, Herb "Flight Time" Lang of the Harlem Globetrotters left an impression recently at a suburban Seattle school.
Asked by a fifth-grader how much courage it takes to speak in public, the 6-foot, 3-inch Lang replies, "As long as you're confident and you know what you're talking about, you have nothing to worry about. You've got to own the situation."
Lang owned the day as he made the rounds on behalf of the Globetrotters, who played four games in the Seattle area in mid-February. The Globetrotters are partnering with World Vision during the iconic basketball team's tour to more than 250 cities in North America.
At each game, the team gives fans an opportunity to sponsor a child in need internationally or support World Vision's work in the U.S.
Lang visited World Vision's Pacific Northwest field site in Fife, where he chatted with special needs volunteers as they assembled colorful packets of pencils, markers, glue sticks, and other items donated by Yoobi, a school supply brand.
He spun his red, white, and blue basketball on the index fingers of awed volunteers, cracked playful jokes about Seattle pro sports teams, flashed a radiant smile, and took turns showing off dribbling skills with Tony G, a volunteer known for being nuts about basketball.
"Man, he's cool," Tony G says, while another volunteer, Chase, calls the moment "my dream. I'm going to go home and say, 'This is a good day.'"
The day wasn't finished for Lang, who then went to Bow Lake Elementary School in SeaTac with Tony G and World Vision staff to help distribute boxes of Yoobi supplies and deliver an inspiring message. (Yoobi donates an item for every one it sells.)
Lang told students that he has played for the Globetrotters for 16 years, more than three times longer than the average player career, and traveled to 95 countries. Pointing to a globe in a classroom, he says that he's been "pretty much anywhere you see land."
He grew up in a town of 3,000 people in Brinkley, Arkansas, the oldest of nine children. Not only did Lang play multiple sports growing up, he and his friends "competed to see who could make the best grades." Had he not accepted an athletic scholarship, he says, "I would have been able to go to school on an academic scholarship. Basketball and sports only take you so far."
Lang earned a bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Centenary College of Louisiana, so "if I retire, I'll be a teacher, too," says Lang, whose children are age 9 and 7. "We need good teachers."
He drew gasps and applause from students when he told them he appeared on various television shows, including three times on "The Amazing Race" (where he and teammate Nathaniel "Big Easy" Lofton finished as high as second), Disney XD's "Kickin' It," and "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"
When a fifth-grader asked him what it takes to be a Globetrotter, Lang says, "Being a good people person, someone educated. You go into hospitals and schools and adapt to all races and walks of life...You're almost in middle school. Start figuring out who you want to be when you grow up. Set some realistic goals."
While Lang taught trick passes to several boys and girls in the gym, Maureen Kiely, school counselor at Bow Lake, tells a visitor that the Globetrotter made a deep impression on students, most of whom are from low-income families.
Lang is "a man who has advanced in his dream and career," she says. "He has a family; talks about his travels. He's excited to be with kids. He shows empathy and passion for what he does."
The only time Lang disappointed students was when a boy asked him to dunk the basketball. Lang won the 1998 College Slam Dunk Championship with a series of windmill jams, but the feats that led to his "Flight Time" nickname are over.
"It's called Father Time," Lang says as he left the court. "He's undefeated."