Saturday, May 23, 2015

Marques Haynes

Marques Haynes, whose dazzling ball-handling skills, exhibited for more than 40 years as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and other barnstorming black basketball teams, earned him a place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and an international reputation as the world’s greatest dribbler, died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89.

A spokesman for the Globetrotters, Brett Meister, confirmed the death. Haynes had lived in Plano.

Haynes was a stellar cog on the Globetrotter squads of the late 1940s and early ’50s, when the team was as competitive as any team anywhere, including those in the professional leagues that in 1949 merged to form the National Basketball Association.

Indeed, the Globetrotters were basketball’s biggest attraction, not only in the United States — where their popularity was a societal sneer at segregation and bigotry even though they were victims of it — but also around the world, where their signature mix of sport and showmanship made them ambassadors of American good will.

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

Able to bounce a ball three times a second, to control it just an inch or two off the floor, to tease defenders with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t legerdemain, he befuddled opponents and thrilled fans night after night with his dexterous displays — dribbling from his knees, lying on his side or sitting, and weaving in and out of court traffic, playing a solo game of keep-away within the larger game.

Once, at a game in Chihuahua, Mexico, when two teammates fouled out in the third quarter and only four men were left on the floor, he dribbled out nearly the whole fourth quarter to exhaust the clock.

Haynes often played against local teams around the world that could not match the Trotters’ skills, and against hapless opponents whose very haplessness was the point. But he also played in the Globetrotters’ victories over the all-white Minneapolis Lakers and their star center George Mikan in 1948 and 1949, games that helped prompt the integration of professional basketball. (One of the first black players in the National Basketball Association, Sweetwater Clifton, who joined the Knicks in 1950, came from the Globetrotters.)

And Haynes played on a European tour in 1951 that ended at Olympic Stadium in Berlin, where 75,000 people welcomed the Globetrotters and a special guest: Jesse Owens, who in 1936, in the same stadium, won four Olympic gold medals, to Adolf Hitler’s dismay.

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