Harlem Globetrotter Derek “Dizzy” Grant’s tricks with a red, white and blue basketball wowed the nearly 360 students at Missoula’s Russell Elementary School on Friday morning.
And their teachers.
“It was wonderful,” said third-grade teacher Doug Gillespie, whom Grant called down from the audience during the event. “I enjoyed it a lot, and clearly the kids did, too.”
Grant’s visit was about more than completing a seemingly impossible aerial bag of basketball tricks, though.
His take-home message was about the growing problem of bullying in schools.
“This is the first year we’ve done it,” the seventh-year Globetrotter said. “Unfortunately, bullying has become an epidemic in schools today. We’re known as ambassadors of goodwill in the community, so we wanted to reach out and make a stand in some way.
“We put our heads together within the organization and said, ‘Why not try to end this bullying problem?’ So far, things are going pretty good.”
Grant’s interactive talk with the gymnasium full of ever-cheering students was part of the Globetrotters’ “ABCs of Bullying Prevention” program.
The ABCs, as told by Grant, are: Action, Bravery and Compassion.
As he explained what each letter represented, Grant called down three students to stand in the shape of said letters, giving the gymnasium a visual representation.
Then he asked the kids what they should do when they encounter bullying, to which the students shouted, “D!”
“No D,” Grant responded with a laugh. “Not today, sorry.”
The 30-year-old basketball star explained that one should “be a leader and tell an adult.”
Grant ultimately had five volunteers out on the court with him, but one was more reluctant than the others.
“I was hoping he wouldn’t pick me,” Gillespie said. “I don’t like to be the center of attention.”
Gillespie, who was actively telling his third-grade class not to point at him, did the one thing Grant said he looks for at each of his events.
“That’s usually who I look for as one of my ‘victims,’ you could say,” the Globetrotter said. “Whenever I see a teacher trying to hide behind a kid or their face gets real red, those are usually the best ones.”
Gillespie joined four elementary students on stage and Grant taught each of the four a basketball move as part of his “Magic Circle.”
As each person performed their new move, including Gillespie, who was told to simply throw the ball over his shoulder and dance, the trademark Globetrotter whistling music played.
“It was very rewarding for me, and I think for the other kids as well,” Gillespie said later. “It was a great message for all of us.”
After a quick Q&A session with the kids, Grant performed a few more tricks before exiting to raucous applause.
“I think the kids were pretty receptive to it,” Grant said. “It always helps coming in and wearing this nice, bright warm-up and carrying this basketball. I think I got their attention. Hopefully, the message will sink in and will help end bullying in schools.”
Grant said he thinks pairing a serious matter with the entertainment of Globetrotters basketball is a great way to get through to the kids.
“That’s what we’re known for,” he said. “When you think of the Harlem Globetrotters, you think of having a good time. We wanted to get the point across, but at the same time, have fun. That’s what we’re about.
“I just try to bring the kids out there, play a couple games with them, but at the end, try to really hit home and let them know, ‘This is how you need to try to help put an end to bullying.’ ”
Dizzy and his teammates will be in Missoula to play at the Adams Center on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.