BONNER – Happy-go-lucky works.
Take it from Julian “Zeus” McClurkin, who gave a few tips on how to handle bullies to a gym full of students and teachers at Bonner School on Tuesday morning.
“You never want to underestimate the power of a smile, guys,” advised McClurkin, who’ll play “finisher” for the Harlem Globetrotters when they come to the University of Montana’s Adams Center on Friday, Feb. 27.
Though McClurkin now stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 225 pounds, he didn’t have the basketball skills to go pro in 2009 after playing college ball at North Carolina A&T.
But he can dunk like thunder – hence the Greek god nickname the Globetrotters have bestowed on him. He can effortlessly spin a basketball on his finger and, as he did following the surprise 30-minute assembly at Bonner, transfer it like magic to the eager finger of a fifth-grader like Kevin Ryan.
Most important, Zeus can smile like sunshine, and make everyone in a crowded gym do the same.
It’s his rookie season, but McClurkin is the consummate Globetrotter, who are in their 88th year of hardcourt hoops entertainment and ambassadorship.
In recent years, they’ve teamed with the National Campaign to Stop Violence to present “The ABCs of Bullying Prevention.” Dereck “Dizzy” Grant brought a similar message to Russell and Hawthorne elementary schools in Missoula in 2013 and 2014.
McClurkin and fellow Globetrotter Anthony “Buckets” Blakes are splitting their time between school programs like the one Tuesday at Bonner and the Trotters' rigorous playing schedule against the Washington Generals.
On Wednesday alone, Globetrotters squads will be playing games in Massachusetts, Mississippi and Yakima, Washington. The western squad makes five stops on consecutive days in Montana starting Feb. 26 in Butte and winding up March 2 in Great Falls.
McClurkin is hitting schools in all five cities this week. He’s talking about the start of the Globetrotters in 1926 in Chicago and the anti-bullying message owner Abe Saperstein sent from the start.
Saperstein’s influence helped break the NBA color barrier after his Globetrotters beat the Minneapolis Lakers in back-to-back years behind Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton. In 1950, Clifton was drafted by the New York Knicks.
In 1985, Saperstein broke professional basketball’s gender barrier by signing Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard to the Globetrotters.
“Not allowing somebody to play a sport because of the color of their skin or because of their gender is a form of bullying,” McClurkin told the assemblage of 400 students, teachers and staff at Bonner.
The A, B and C of the anti-bullying message stand for action, bravery and compassion. McClurkin had the assemblage repeat the first two at full voice. For compassion they followed his lead in quieter tones, laughing, with heads tilted to folded hands.
Eighth-grader Ashtyn Moulton was escorted to the front to tell what part compassion can play when dealing with a bully.
“Say something nice to the person?” he suggested.
“Exactly,” McClurkin said. “Make that person your friend for the day.”
You don’t have to make him or her your best friend, the Globetrotter advised. But try giving a compliment about, say, what the bully is wearing and see what happens.
The Globetrotters have been to more than 122 countries but they don’t speak that many languages.
“The No. 1 language that everyone speaks is a smile,” McClurkin said. “If you make somebody smile, you’ve really made their day.”
McClurkin skipped to the front with second-grader Brooklyn Porter, then sixth-grader Cheyanne Kompier to converse about “action” and “bravery.”
Action tip No. 1: Tell a teacher or another adult if you see someone being bullied.
“Some people will say you’re a tattle-tale, but you’re actually doing that bully a favor,” McClurkin asserted. “You’re helping them become a better individual through life. That’s a good thing.”
Kompier’s suggestion of bravery: Walk away from the bully.
Agreed, McClurkin said, who recalled a situation he found himself in back in elementary school in Columbus, Ohio.
“There was a girl who always threw drumsticks at me in music class,” he said. “I was this happy-go-lucky kid, and I would always smile while she was throwing them at me and walk right up to the teacher, and then she would get in trouble for her actions.
“I learned later that she liked me and didn’t know how to tell me.”
Happiness is power and a bully wants to take that away, McClurkin said.
“What you want to do is, if somebody is being mean to you, keep smiling, keep having a good time," he said. "That will confuse the bully and make him mad.”
What: 2015 Washington Generals Revenge World Tour
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27
Where: University of Montana's Adams Center
Tickets: $17-$38 at Adams Center or at umt.edu/griztix