From seventh grade to 10th grade, scrawny Columbus, Ohio, youth Julian McClurkin tried out for his school's basketball team and got cut every time.
Even after having enough hops to dunk as a ninth-grader, McClurkin couldn't manage to make the roster.
But you could say McClurkin is getting the last laugh — or at least the ordained minister is getting a good chuckle — since that scrawny kid with asthma has grown up to become "Zeus" McClurkin, a 6-foot-8-inch forward who gets paid to play basketball and do what he does best — "smile and dunk" — in his eighth year as a Harlem Globetrotter.
Callled Zeus (the God of Thunder) because his thunderous dunk, McClurkin and the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters — now in their 91st year of entertaining fans — bring their 2018 "Amazing Feats of Basketball World Tour" to the Charleston Civic Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, and to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 7.
Tickets can be purchased at harlemglobetrotters.com, ticketmaster.com, each venue's box office, or by calling 800-745-3000. Information on group and scout tickets can be found at harlemglobetrotters.com.
McClurkin, a 2004 graduate of Columbus' Independence High School and who played basketball at Tiffin University and then North Carolina A&T State University, said his story is truly a testament to not letting obstacles get in the way of achieving one's dreams.
Even after finally getting on his high school team and getting to play college ball, the departure of the head coach left McClurkin on the outside looking in. Undeterred, he enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University and made the basketball team as a walk-on, beating out 30 other hopefuls in the process.
He went on to earn an undergraduate degree in business management at North Carolina A&T and then a master's degree in marketing and communications from Franklin University, based in his hometown of Columbus.
"Even when I finally made my first basketball team, I was always behind the eight ball. My teammates always said that I was way too nice, and they would say, 'All you like to do is to dunk and smile,'" McClurkin said with a laugh.
"And today, that is what the Globetrotters pay me to do."
And boy does he. McClurkin dunked his way into the Guinness Book of World Records.
On Nov. 17, 2016, he set the mark for the most basketball slam dunks in one minute with 16.
To give you an idea of just how challenging that was, Zeus could only dunk one ball at a time and was required to run back across the free throw line before each attempt. Zeus also set a new record for the most bounced three-pointers in one minute, with five.
And he is just one of the many Trotters who dunk with high-flying ease.
The Globetrotters feature the world's largest collection of elite dunkers, including six players who have competed in the annual College Slam Dunk contest held during Final Four weekend, a Guinness World Record holder for slam dunks and the 2016 winner of the TV show "The Dunk King."
The high-flying dunks do not end with the players, as 2018 will also mark the debut of the "Flying Globies" — an acrobatic trampoline dunk team which will defy gravity during the game action with exciting in-air stunts.
McClurkin said there ain't no slamming like Globetrotters' slamming.
"I saw the NBA slam dunk contest last week, and I was like, 'Ah that's just like one of our practices,'" said McClurkin, who has a 37-inch vertical leap.
"I think our practices are even better. There's no dunk I haven't seen. We do some crazy dunks and cool trick shots in our practices, and if we like one of them, like a cool trick shot from the stands, then we say, 'Let's try it from the stands in the game.'"
Known for his fun personality and crazy trick shots at places like Ohio State and the Mall of America — which have been featured on ESPN — McClurkin, whose father, Joseph Johnson, was born in Princeton, West Virginia, said he loves turning kids onto the sweet laugh and awe-filled magic of the Globetrotters.
"A lot of times we are kids' first introduction to the sport, and when you see the guys and girls out there having fun and high-fiving, it says it all," McClurkin said.
"Even in the NBA when you see a team having success it is usually players who are playing with their friends and not just a group of guys, but a group of guys they love to be around. We want to be out there, and we want to put a smile on your face."
McClurkin said that love of the sport and of life transcends all languages as he has been to 23 countries since he became a Globetrotter eight years ago.
Since joining the Globetrotters, he's also transcended language barriers with appearances on popular Spanish-language television shows like Univision's "Republica Deportiva" and Telemundo's "Un Nuevo Dia."
And McClurkin has gotten to put his middle school German class to good use.
"The travel has been amazing. We got to play in Israel in Tel Aviv, and I went to Jerusalem and got to tour the city — that was pretty amazing," McClurkin said. "And Paris was amazing and Germany. It was funny; when we went to Germany I was the only player who knew how to speak German. I took German in middle school, and they were like, 'You will never get to use it,' but I have been to Germany four times now."
If you go
WHAT: The world-famous Harlem Globetrotters are now in their 91st year of entertaining fans with their 2018 "Amazing Feats of Basketball World Tour." The tour stops at the Charleston Civic Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, and at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 7.
GET TIX: Get tickets at harlemglobetrotters.com, ticketmaster.com, each venue's box office, or by phone at 800-745-3000. Information on group and scout tickets can be found at harlemglobetrotters.com.
MEET THE TROTTERS: Prior to every game, the Globetrotters offer the Magic Pass, which gives fans an opportunity to interact with the team's stars on the court, shoot hoops, learn tricks and pose for pictures. After the game, Globetrotter stars will be on hand for additional autograph and photo opportunities.
WHO: The Harlem Globetrotters feature such showmen like Big Easy Lofton, Hi-Lite Bruton, Ant Atkinson and Hammer Harrison, as well as fan favorites Firefly Fisher, Bull Bullard, Thunder Law and Cheese Chisholm. To match the growing popularity of the Globetrotters' female stars, the team will feature four female players — the largest female roster in team history — including TNT Lister, Hoops Green and Torch George.
THE OPPONENTS: Additionally, the 2018 tour marks the return of the Globetrotters' longtime nemesis, the Washington Generals. After a long-standing series which saw the Generals lose more than 14,000 times, the team is back from a two-year hiatus to rebuild and refocus around one goal — to beat the Globetrotters. After making its retooled debut this summer, the Generals are out to finally take down the Globetrotters — once and for all.
ON DECK @ THE ARENA: Feb. 27, The Price is Right; March 2-4 World of Wheels; March 9-11, WSAZ Home and Garden Show; March 15, Casting Crowns; March 22, Cole Swindell; March 23-25, Spikefest.
Your browser don't support Java Applet.