Harlem Ambassadors whoop it up
By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
Spontaneous interaction with the crowd.
And, above all, some high flying basketball entertainment.
That's what the Harlem Ambassadors brought to the Baker High School gym against the Baker Hot Hoops Sunday afternoon.
The Ambassadors visited Baker City as part of the current tour through the Pacific Northwest. The team, similar to the old-time Harlem Globetrotters and Harlem Clowns, arrived in Baker City from Redmond. Following the Baker City visit the team was headed to Mountain Home, Idaho.
The biggest difference between the Ambassadors and the other traveling teams is that this team is led by a female player K.B. Buckner.
"We like to be challenged by the best local players," Buckner said. "There are always a few tough players in any place we go."
One of the better players in attendance Sunday Wade Joseph couldn't play against the Ambassadors. Joseph, a former BHS star who will play for Northwest Nazarene University this winter, couldn't play because of his college eligibility. But that didn't mean Buckner couldn't have some fun with him anyway.
Prior to the tipoff, Buckner engaged Joseph in a little pregame dancing along the sideline. As Buckner went through her moves, Joseph tried to keep up while also ducking his head and blushing.
"It was a surprise," Joseph said of Buckner's impromptu dance with him. "She is a pretty good dancer, and they put on a pretty good show."
Joseph said he didn't have a chance to put any of his better dance moves to use.
Joseph's younger brother, Loren, sparked the Baker team in the early going once the game began. Joseph hit four baskets to keep the locals within 17-13.
But he earned the wrath of Buckner in the process.
On one play where the Baker players were headed down court, Buckner tackled Joseph near the scorer's table and, after the referee slid in to make the count, pinned the BHS grad for the three count.
"That was the first time I've been on the wrestling mat," Joseph joked.
Buckner also was assessed a foul by official Bob Morrison, who ironicly also coaches the Ambassadors, awarding two shots to Joseph for the foul.
"What do you mean foul?" Buckner said with a sly grin. "Where I come from, if there's no blood, there's no foul."
Joseph, who is attending the University of Oregon part time studying for his degree, said the skits were all in good, clean fun. And, he said, the Baker players were coached in what to do in many situations by Morrison and the Ambassador players.
David Hull, another BHS grad, made the first shot of the game, a left-handed hook in the key over a much taller Ambassador player. Hull agreed that the Baker players had to think about more than basketball on the floor.
"I thought it would get swatted away," he said of his basket.
"Their coach was constantly telling us when they had a dunk coming. He let us know the subtle little things like which way they were leaning against us to keep us from getting in the way and getting a sneaker in the mouth when they went up for the basket," Hull said.
The Ambassadors led 46-21 at halftime just in time for a little dance party with a large portion of the audience. Six lines of dancers slipped, stepped and stumbled to the "Cha Cha Slide."
"Now I'm going to the prom this year," said Cherie Conklin, who resisted going on to the floor at first. "My daughter will love that."
Conklin, who ended up next to BHS athletic director John Birkmaier in one line, said Birkmaier had the worst of the two's feet.
"John stepped on me the most," she said.
Following the dancing, Buckner went looking for a new mom and dad. She found them in John and Barbara Ackerman. Seated comfortably between the Ackermans, Buckner again challenged Morrison about one of his calls. She even took Barbara to the floor to get in the official's face with her.
"I had no idea I had a professional player for a daughter," said Barbara, who is one of the owners of Barb and Betty's Hallmark. "I think this is just great. It's fun."
When the second half started, the Baker team was mysteriously ahead 51-49. That didn't last long as a series of high-flying dunks gave the Ambassadors a 76-66 advantage entering the final 10 minutes.
The final score as the Harlem team signed autographs was Ambassadors 102, Baker 74. But what really mattered was the entertainment supplied during the afternoon by a talented group of athletes and their interaction with the fans.