Malcolm Walton

The Harlem Globetrotters take on the Washington Generals March 11 at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

The Harlem Globetrotters’ finesse-dunking forward Julian “Zeus” McClurkin has emerged as one of its most popular players during his time with the team.

While McClurkin, who has visited 14 countries since joining the Globetrotters, has a jam-packed schedule, he is never too busy to meet the kids who look up to him and admire his jaw-dropping athleticism.

Last month, McClurkin visited the A.D. Lewis Community Center in Huntington to speak with local kids about the importance of hard work and self-determination.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said he hoped the kids from the community took away the positive message McClurkin offered them.

“I look at these kids and I know some are saying ‘I’m going to be him one day,’” Williams said. “Zeus is a great ambassador, and I’m thrilled he’s taken the time to not only come to Huntington but to come to the A.D. Lewis Community Center as well.”

McClurkin said visiting community centers like the A.D. Lewis brings back special memories from his childhood.

“I came to community centers just like this when I was younger,” McClurkin said. “I used to play in here for hours, upon hours, upon hours. Basketball was my release, kind of my stress reliever. I could just do it for forever. So, it’s a good thing for the kids to be able to see somebody who was in their seat at one time and know they’re able to overcome whatever obstacles they have. They can make it through it.”

Antonio Thompson, a local sixth grader, said getting to meet McClurkin was an experience he will not forget.

“It sounds like he went through a lot of the same things me and my friends kind of go through now, like with school and sports,” Thompson said. “It makes me think if he was able to do it then so can I. You just can’t give up.”

McClurkin knows all about overcoming obstacles—he was cut from every basketball team he tried out for from seventh grade through 10th grade.

After finally getting the opportunity to play his last two years of high school basketball, McClurkin secured a spot on a Division II college team. However, after the arrival of a new head coach, he was once again cut from his team.

My motivation was everybody that told me I couldn’t do it.”

— Zeus McClurken

While most may have decided to walk away from the game at that point, McClurkin said he kept fighting for his life-long dream. He would enrolled at North Carolina A&T State and walked on the basketball team, where he finished his college career.

McClurkin eventually landed on the Globetrotters’ radar after playing for several professional teams, including teams based overseas.

During the disparaging times, McClurkin said motivation was the key.

“My motivation was everybody that told me I couldn’t do it,” McClurkin said. “And there were a lot of people that said I couldn’t. My older brother also motivated me. He played basketball and he was great at it. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Obviously, I wasn’t the best, but there was a place for me here in this world. I was just this happy-go-lucky kid who loved to play, and the Globetrotters love people who love to smile and love to dunk, so it’s the perfect marriage.”

McClurkin said there are many rewarding opportunities off the basketball court that come with being a member of the Globetrotters.

“Besides traveling the world, I would say the best part is putting smiles on kids’ faces, really feeling like you’re doing something special,” McClurkin said. “I don’t know any other professional team that gets a chance to visit these kinds of places on a consistent basis. We’re playing over 310 games this year in over 250 cities. And in every single one of those cities, we’re going to be visiting schools, visiting children hospitals and visiting community centers like this one.”

McClurkin, who still remembers watching the Globetrotters on television as a kid, said he never could have dreamed he would one day be a member of the historic team.

“The first time I saw them was actually on Scooby-Doo,” McClurkin said. “I didn’t realize it was a basketball team. I just remember seeing these guys that looked like me and I thought they were some sort of superheroes. So, the first time I did see them play, I saw the reception that they got, especially in areas like Huntington. Everywhere they go they’re the hometown team, and I wanted to be a part of that. And now I am.”

Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected]