Former Rebel’s spirit lives on with Globetrotters

Two months after Chris Richardson’s death, team finishes an emotional week of mourning in Vegas


Ethan Miller

UNLV forward Chris Richardson leaps over a ball rack en route to winning the slam dunk contest during the UNLV Fan Jam at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, November 1, 2000. This was the the third consecutive year Richardson had won the event.

Fri, Feb 13, 2009 (midnight)

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV forward Chris Richardson swoops in to throw down a breakaway dunk in the second half against DePaul at the Thomas & Mack Center on Feb. 3, 2002. The Rebels defeated the Blue Demons 90-75.

It's two parts basketball, three parts entertainment.

That's been the formula for the Harlem Globetrotters since they formed in 1926.

It was no different Wednesday night at the Orleans Arena, as the traveling act came to Las Vegas and entertained a crowd of more than 3,000.

Not long ago, this was going to be the second stop of a homecoming-eque week for former Globetrotter and UNLV Rebel Chris Richardson.

The 6-foot-7, 28-year-old performer who went by the nickname 'Flash' passed away in his sleep in December while the team was on tour in Japan, entertaining American troops.

Within a week, the Globetrotters were scheduled to perform in Richardson's hometown -- Corpus Christi, Texas -- and Las Vegas, where he'd made a home for himself since finishing his UNLV hoops career in 2002.

The show went on as scheduled on both dates, with special ceremonies included to honor Richardson in front of his family members in both hometowns.

"To me, he was the quintessential Harlem Globetrotter," said Handles Franklin, one of Richardson's closest friends on the team. "He was not only great on the court, but great off the court. I think it puts everything in perspective."

Now, Franklin honors his late friend by touching his chest before taking the court, where the letters 'CLR' are stitched onto the Globetrotters' uniforms.

"Every single time I go out there, I touch that, I go out there and I'm ready," he said. "I get focused and I realize it's about giving everybody a great show, like he did."

And very few could put on a show like Richardson. Sure, the Globetrotters have their nifty ballhandlers and passers, but fans have always and will always love flashy, thunderous slam dunks more than anything else.

Few were better at the high-wire act than Richardson, who just last October shattered a backboard during a performance in Hermosillo, Mexico.

Several pieces of his work -- both as a Rebel and a Globetrotter -- were shown during a video montage at the Orleans just before the start of Wednesday's third quarter. Several players watched with tears welling up in their eyes, and after the video presentation, they met Richardson's young daughter and other family members at center court, handing out No. 30 jerseys and hugs before posing for a group photo.

It was the same in Corpus Christi last Sunday, with Richardson's mother and another group of family members in attendance.

"The one speech we gave to everyone was to be strong for the family, and we tried our best doing that," said Globetrotters coach Barry Hardy. "I don't know if we succeeded or not, but the mom was in good spirit, as were his brothers, which made us feel better."

Hardy, during a four-minute interview before Wednesday's game, had a tough time holding back tears.

If it's this hard for the Globetrotters two months after the fact, it's difficult to imagine how tough it was for the team to continue performing and entertaining in the immediate wake of Richardson's passing, as their shows are executed with smiles on their faces and joyous crowd interactions.

"We played cards all night until 11," Franklin said. "With him dead the next morning, still, I'm getting chills just talking to you about it right now. It was just difficult.

"His last call was to his daughter. He called his daughter and said 'I love you, I'll see you on the 19th.' He told us he's going to sleep, and he never got back up."

Added Hi Rise Brown: "It's been hard, especially this going on my fourth year, talking to the guys who have been here for nine, 10 years they said it's never happened to them before. We wanted to go home, but at the same time, we knew that it was probably best that we stay out. That's what Chris probably would have wanted us to do. We just played our hearts out no matter what."

Now, the Globetrotters' show moves on with a constant reminder of Richardson sewn onto their chests. There are other guys on the roster who can pull off aerial assaults, young fellas such as Airport Greenup or Bull Bullard.

Richardson's untimely passing, however, left a more lasting, spiritual impact with several on the team who were close with him up until his final days.

"His character, his charisma made me want to be a better father, be a better teammate, made me want to be a better man," Franklin said. "The Globetrotters have been around for 83 years as ambassadors of good will, and when something like this happens, you really understand what you're doing out here. You're touching lives, you're changing lives."

It seemed no one in attendance at the Orleans could help but be touched Wednesday night.

Just before the teams came back on the floor for the second half, four No. 30 Globetrotter jerseys were laid out on the scorer's table by a team staff member in preparation for the ceremony.

A mother and her young son walked by, asking if they were for sale, noting that their last name, too, was Richardson.

The staffer solemnly informed them what the jerseys were there for, and that was the end of the exchange.

Barry pointed out that it's not just the Globetrotter players who were affected, but everyone, from the emcees to the mascots. It's one family, and Wednesday was proof of what Chris Richardson meant to this family in particular.

"It's just as tough because we have to see his face up there again on that big screen with the sad music, but it's something that we want to do, that we have to do," Hardy said. "We need to do this for Chris and because of who he was with us."

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