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The Harlem Globetrotters bring their goodwill to an elementary school in El Mirage

By Matthew Casey
Published: Friday, February 9, 2024 - 4:45am
Updated: Friday, February 9, 2024 - 7:49am

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Three men in uniform stand together with spinning basketball
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
Harlem Globetrotters team members (from left) Maxwell "Hops" Pearce, Justin "X-Over" Tompkins and Jason "Buckets" Barrera at El Mirage Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

The cafeteria at El Mirage Elementary buzzed as children lunched on sub sandwiches.

Rick Haney is principal of the school he calls lower socioeconomic, but high-performing academically. Many students in Haney’s school come from families who’ve attended here for generations.

“They love their school. So one of our catch phrases is when you miss school, you miss out,” Haney said.

There was a big surprise waiting for those who came to school Tuesday. There were Harlem Globetrotters in the gymnasium, but the kids didn't yet know.

“I want them to be inspired that they can become something great if they put the work in,” Haney said.

Man in headband and Suns shirt speaks into microphone
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
El Mirage Elementary School Principal Rick Haney on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

The Harlem Globetrotters are playing their 97th season of basketball. But they’ve evolved a number of times in their nearly century-long run, becoming entertainers as much as athletes.

Now, the team that helped popularize the slam dunk and wowed audiences for decades still puts on a fun basketball show. But the primary mission is to be ambassadors of goodwill.

Globetrotters team members Hops, Buckets and X-Over passed out smiles and wisdom to kids at the West Valley elementary school on Tuesday.

On-court warmups were underway for the Globetrotters.

Students sit on court
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
The Harlem Globetrotters visited El Mirage Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

“I’m a dunker and I like to dribble with my knees,” said Hops, whose real name is Maxwell Pearce.

Jason Barrera goes by the nickname Buckets.

“My specialty is the one-hand windmill. I’m a dunker," Barrera said.

He's twice been a dunk contest champion.

“A lot of times in schools, you see people who maybe don’t have a lot of friends, eat lunch alone,” Buckets said.

Justin Tompkins, also known as X-Over, has an older brother who’s a Globetrotter, too. Both are under 5 feet tall — they are the team’s shortest-ever players.

“I can also dunk. I can also dribble. I can also play with the big guys. I just want kids to believe in themselves and hope they can do anything that they want to do,” X-Over said.

Men on basketball court
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
The Harlem Globetrotters visited El Mirage Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

By the time the student body filled the gym, many kids are wore red, white and blue headbands for the team. Hops, Buckets and X-Over performed ball tricks and slick shots with students and faculty. The kids loved it all, especially when Principal Haney sank an old-fashioned free-throw.

During question time, one student asked the Globetrotters if they’ve been in the NBA and seen LeBron James.

Hops called it one of his favorite questions before explaining none of the three have. He told the crowd you don’t even have to play in college to get the most out of basketball.

“It’s not just something that you put in a basket. It is a door-opener. It is a key. It is something that you can leverage to get into other things that you are passionate about,” Hops said.

After nearly a century of playing, the ambassadors of goodwill are still using basketball to make people smile.

And although the act has evolved, they’re still busy with plans to visit about 400 schools in four months.

Students stand with basketball players on court
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
The Harlem Globetrotters visited El Mirage Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

Men stand on basketball court
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
The Harlem Globetrotters visited El Mirage Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

Woman walks with basketball players on court
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
The Harlem Globetrotters gave an award to Kaitlyn Wagner, a social worker at El Mirage Elementary School, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

Harlem Globetrotters sign
Chelsey Heath/KJZZ
The Harlem Globetrotters visited El Mirage Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

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