Perched at the edge of the arena seats far behind the basket, Corey “Thunder” Law took aim. He cocked back his tattooed arm and launched a basketball in a high arc to the other end of the court.
The then-rookie member of the Harlem Globetrotters drew hollers and applause from a handful of onlookers at Phoenix’s U.S. Airways Center, some of whom were officials for Guinness World Records. Law had just set the mark for the longest basketball shot at 109 feet, 9 inches.
But the Globetrotter wasn’t done. Two months ago he returned to the same arena and earned the record for the longest backward shot: 82 feet, 2 inches.
“The backward shot, that’s what I’m known for. It didn’t take me more than five minutes before I got it,” Law says. “I had a rookie come in this year and tell me how easy it was. So I took him out there and told him to give it a try. It wasn’t even close. I didn’t think the shot was that difficult until I watched other people try it.”
For the 25-year-old Law, his whole career has been something of a long shot.
The 6-foot-3-inch Virginia native played college ball at High Point University in North Carolina. He was a solid competitor for the Panthers, ending up as their second all-time leading rebounder. His 44-inch vertical leap had something to do with that stat. It also got him noticed when competing in the 2013 College Slam Dunk Championship, where he took home the honor of Dark Horse Dunker.
This didn’t land him in the NBA, but he did get “drafted” by the Globetrotters. (Other players taken in the team’s 2013 draft included current WNBA star Brittney Griner and former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera.)
“The first time I saw the Globetrotters in person was the first time I ran out of the tunnel with them,” he says.
Law will put on a dunk clinic when the Globetrotters return to Kansas City on Saturday for a pair of shows at the Sprint Center and a Sunday show at the Independence Events Center.
“I saw them a few times on TV when I was growing up,” he said. “But I had a big family, and we couldn’t afford tickets to see them live.”
Decked in their red, white and blue uniforms and accompanied by the whistled melody of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” the Globetrotters are a cornerstone of American pop culture that have enjoyed tremendous durability. Their mix of sheer athleticism, zany theatrics and family-friendly comedy never seems to go out of style.
What can fans expect to see on the 2015 tour?
“We’ve been around 89 years. Everyone wants to see the confetti bucket. Everyone wants to see the four-point shot. Other than that, you never know what to expect. We’ll change it up every night,” says Law, who earned his nickname at training camp for “throwing down some thunderous dunks.”
While Law enjoys the live performances, he says the best part of being on the team is the off-court activities.
“The most misunderstood thing is people think we’re just full of tricks and that’s all we do,” he said. “But we do a lot of community outreach. We have Smile Patrol where we visit hospitals and charities. We speak at a lot of schools throughout the year. I love any opportunity to talk to youth and give back to the community.”
The Globetrotter points to a meeting last year in Houston as his highlight thus far. The team heard about a kid who had been away from school for months because he was battling cancer. So Law went and spoke to the boy’s class and recorded a video of the experience.
“He watched the video on his iPad,” Law recalled. “He was like, ‘Thunder is reading a book to my classmates!’ He was just excited for his class. When the video finished, his mom tells him to look up, and I was standing right behind him. He busted out in tears.”
“Sweet” Lou Dunbar, director of player personnel for the Globetrotters, was one of the people responsible for recruiting Law.
“He’s a great kid that loves the game,” Dunbar says of Law. “He has a smile and personality that goes hand in hand with his basketball talents. And that’s why we look for good basketball players who are good people that love people.”
Dunbar played 27 years with the team before moving onto the corporate side.
“I’ve now seen four decades of audiences, and each decade a smile on a kid’s face is the same. The only change I can tell is that the smiles just keep getting bigger,” Dunbar says.
Law was just a kid himself when he started honing his Globetrotters-sized talents. He executed his first successful dunk as a sixth-grader.
“It was cool because no one else in my school could do it,” Law says. “I felt popular after that first one. I remember watching Vince Carter slam dunk in 2000 — he was my favorite player. I wanted to be just like him. I was doing calf raises that I thought could help me jump higher. That next summer I was able to dunk.”
His childhood aspiration was to play basketball professionally. He always assumed that meant the NBA.
“I don’t compare Globetrotters and NBA players. NBA players are great at what they do. So are Globetrotters,” he says. “I definitely had no idea I’d be playing with the Globetrotters and going overseas. Now I’m living my dream, but it’s almost like a double dream because I’m making an impact on so many lives around the world.”
Until his rookie season, Law had never set foot outside the United States. In December alone he visited six countries. So far, Greece has been his favorite international stop. The team heads to Europe in March for an extended tour.
Law envies the fact that some of his teammates have traveled to more than 50 countries. And some have gained other forms of stardom for their global adventures.
“Everywhere I go people ask, ‘Do you know Flight Time and Big Easy?,’” he says, alluding to teammates who are three-time competitors on TV’s “The Amazing Race.” “I’m used to it. No matter where I go, fans ask about those two.”
Currently based in Los Angeles, Law strives to improve his craft. (A third Guinness attempt might be on the horizon once he determines what additional record he’d like to set.) He’s eager to learn from some of the longtime Globetrotters.
“I remember last year in my first start, my teammate Shane ‘Scooter’ Christensen was telling me how being a Globetrotter is not something you can master because there’s always stuff to learn,” he says.
“I watch my veteran teammates, and they’re always working on something new. There’s always something you can be working on, whether it’s ball handling or four-point shooting or a new dunk. You want to be able to add a lot to the show.”
He adds, “Of course we miss shots. We’re human. We’re not perfect. But if something goes wrong, I’m sure we can turn it into something funny.”
The KC-area stops are part of the 2015 excursion dubbed the “Washington Generals’ Revenge Tour.” It’s been five years since the Globetrotters have played against their longtime exhibition opponents — a team known for a spectacular losing streak last broken in 1971.
The streak has been a go-to punch line in pop culture, perhaps done best on an episode of “The Simpsons” involving Krusty the Clown.
Krusty’s Accountant: “Let me get this straight. You took all the money you made franchising your name and bet it against the Harlem Globetrotters?”
Krusty the Clown: “I thought the Generals were due! (Watching the game on TV.) He’s spinning the ball on his finger! Just take it! Take it!”
Law doesn’t encourage any Krusty-like strategies for the coming matchup.
“They’ve come back with a new scheme to try and make history this year,” Law says. “But we’ve beat them more than 2,000 times. I wouldn’t make that bet.”
Globetrotters on screen
Since forming in 1926, the Harlem Globetrotters have appeared in thousands of exhibition games, on TV and in movies. Here are some highlights.
1951: The feature film “The Harlem Globetrotters” showcases the skills of “Goose” Tatum and Marques Haynes. Footage includes exhibition games against the Boston Celtics.
1970: Hanna-Barbera creates a cartoon called “Harlem Globetrotters,” which finds the team roaming the world to compete against challengers ranging from hockey players to kangaroos. It is the first Saturday morning show to feature a predominantly black cast.
1974: The team earns a live-action series: “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine,” a combination of skits and educational material for children.
1981: The made-for-TV movie “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” finds the stranded players challenged by a team of robots, with Gilligan (Bob Denver) and Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) entering the game as Globetrotter substitutes.
2000: The Adam Sandler comedy “Little Nicky” depicts the Globetrotters losing to the Washington Generals due to the influence of a demon.
2009: Herbert “Flight Time” Lang and Nate “Big Easy” Lofton finish in fourth place on season 15 of TV’s “The Amazing Race.” They would return twice more, finishing as high as second but never winning the $1 million prize.
2010: Five players appear during a week of celebrity episodes of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” They raise more than $45,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
2012: Globetrotter Bull Bullard takes on NFL players and professional stuntmen in season four of “American Ninja Warrior.” He lasts until the first stage of the finals.
2013: Three members of the Globetrotters join Dennis Rodman for a tour and exhibition game in North Korea attended by Kim Jong Un. It ends in a 110-110 tie — the whole event is documented in the HBO series “Vice.”