One of the more unique fallouts from the NHL lockout was the appearance on ice of the world’s most famed comedic basketball troupe — the Harlem Globetrotters set up shop this week in an outdoor ice rink in the small Michigan town of Portage.

Winter Classic, Hoops-Style

The ice rink at Millennium Park has long hosted outdoor hockey games. But rarely has any outdoor ice rink in North America played the famous song, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” to welcome a team.

For nearly 90 years, fans of basketball, comedy and even cartoons have known the theme song of a team that needs no introduction. But in Portage, they got one anyway.

The Globetrotters’ star player, Handles Franklin, announced the team was in Portage with a mission that the NHL abandoned by cancelling its signature Winter Classic New Year’s hockey game.

“We’re happy that the NHL is back,” Franklin said. “But they weren’t back in time for the Winter Classic. So we are happy to bring our own rendition of the Winter Classic – Globetrotter-style.”

Emilee Bogda, 10,  learns some tricks from Globetrotters Scooter Christensen (l) and Handles Franklin. (William Pugliano/Harlem Globetrotters/AP)

Emilee Bogda, 10, learns some tricks from Globetrotters Scooter Christensen (l) and Handles Franklin. (William Pugliano/Harlem Globetrotters/AP)

Watching the Globetrotters were a hundred or so fans encircling the Millennium Park ice rink or posing in front of the star-spangled logo on the team’s nearby tour bus.

Nine-year-old Billy Kring, there with his family, said he was excited because the ice game combines two of his favorite things: basketball and people he’d seen on the “Amazing Race” TV show.

“I really like basketball and I heard they are really good at basketball tricks and I love basketball tricks too,” Kring said. Asked if he was worried about the team performing on ice, Kring answered, “I think it would be hard, but for them since it’s the second time, I think it might be a little easier than last time.”

Kring had done his homework. The Globetrotters first foray onto ice came three years ago, in New York City’s Central Park.

Fans Of All Ages

Fan Mia DeVries said she lured her daughter and grandchildren to this chilly ice rink because she had very warm memories of the team.

“Because [the] Globetrotters are just exciting,” DeVries said. “I saw them once probably when I was a teenager myself. Outstanding. Amazing. Unbelievable what they can do.”

For her granddaughter, 10-year-old Emilee Bogda, the game was an educational experience.

Asked if she wanted to play basketball on the ice herself, Bogda was quick to say no. Why? “I don’t know,” she said. “‘Cause I will probably fall down and things.”

I was worried at first, ’cause I was like, “Oh goodness I hope I don’t fall.” The ball slipped out of my hand for a little bit. But… I didn’t fall on the ice — which is really hard — so it worked out okay.
– Harlem Globetrotter Scooter Christensen

“We’re home-schooled and it’s pretty much our field trip,” Bogda said. “And it sounds fun to see basketball players on ice. I’ve seen like a video of ‘em once and they’re kind of fun.”

The Globetrotters actually plucked Bogda from the crowd to join them in a few tricks on the ice. She did not fall down. Neither did the players.

Same Game Different Courts

The team is used to staging games in unusual venues from the roof of an arena to the bottom of a drained swimming pool to the deck of an aircraft carrier.

However, Globetrotters player Scooter Christensen says playing in an ice rink was pretty rare, and brand new to him.

“The first time on ice, man,” Christensen said. “We did it three years ago in 2010 in New York City, and I was like ‘God that looks like fun.’ So they invited me to try it for this time. And we’re 2-0 on ice.”

But Christensen said even a Globetrotter faces the home court of a hockey team with a bit of trepidation.

“I was worried at first… ’cause I was like, ‘Oh goodness I hope I don’t fall,’” Christensen said. “The ball slipped out of my hand for a little bit. But as long as I didn’t fall on the ice, which is really hard, so it worked out okay.”

The Logistics Of Ice Basketball

The team equipped players with metal cleats strapped to their sneakers, hockey helmets, and extra padding under their warm-up uniforms. But Globetrotters’ official Eric Nemeth said the organization learned from its 2010 Central Park ice game that simply preparing to play hoops on a hockey rink was a logistical nightmare.

“Back in 2010, we used some of the arena hoops, the ones that our 7-foot-8 player, who’s over 300 pounds, can hang from the hoop and they don’t tilt over,” Nemeth said. “But they’re very challenging to move. We moved them from Long Island all the way to Central Park. This time around, we got some incredible Spalding portable rims, weighed them down here, and the guys were still able to dunk on ‘em and had a great time.”

Handles Franklin declared the ice game a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

At least, he said he hopes so.

“We’re really happy that the NHL is back,” Franklin said, “because we can leave the ice-playing… to the hockey teams.”

With that, Franklin bid the Portage fans adieu. He boarded the team bus, bound for the remainder of the Globetrotters “You Make The Rules” tour, hitting 45 states and nine Canadian provinces through April.

And every one of the rest of those dates, by the way, will be indoors.