Nathaniel “Big Easy” Lofton gives Hurricane Katrina credit for his run with the Harlem Globetrotters.
When the storm hit his hometown of New Orleans in 2005, he was just out of Southeastern Louisiana University. He and 13 relatives were forced to find shelter in Houston.
“We were there for two weeks,” Lofton says.
While he was there, his agent called with an interesting proposition: workout with the Harlem Globetrotters to keep in shape. Lofton agreed as it would be a “nice distraction” from the turbulent time. He enjoyed the Globetrotters’ company and that night he was offered a contract.
“And 14 years later, I’m still here,” he says buoyantly.
He and his fellow Globetrotters have two Valley shows: Friday, August 23, at Gila River Arena in Glendale, and Saturday, August 24, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Founded in 1926, The Harlem Globetrotters are known for their athleticism and humor, which they impart through more than 400 live events each year. Athletes show off their basketball skills by impressive ball handling and dunking all with light-hearted audience interaction.
“It has been life changing,” Lofton says of being a Globetrotter.
He has appeared in multiple television shows, including “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Amazing Race” for three seasons.
He’s visited 90 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Lofton’s favorite trip so far was touring the Vatican and meeting the Pope in 2015. But the most important part of being a Globetrotter for Lofton is touching lives along the way. He says he still gets excited and a little nervous before shows.
“If I ever lose that feeling, I’ll know it’s time to move on,” Lofton says.
Until then, Lofton’s goal is to spread joy to all who come to Harlem Globetrotters shows.
“I hope that for the hour and 34 minutes people are at a live show, they forget all their troubles and just laugh,” Lofton says.
He wants people to leave a show knowing the Globetrotters are good people who aim to make people happy.
Along with entertaining crowds around the world, the Harlem Globetrotters are participating in the “On Our Sleeves” movement, which advocates for children’s mental health issues.
“I am happy to be a part of this movement,” Lofton says.
A doctor in Colorado, Lofton’s wife taught him about the importance of pediatric mental health. Nationwide Children’s Hospital started the movement that aims to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues and to fundraise for mental health research.
Lofton, who played high school and collegiate basketball, says being a Globetrotter is about more than just doing tricks. They are basketball players first and performers second. His specialty is the half-court hook shot. He earned Guinness World Records for the farthest basketball hook shot at 72 feet, 6.25 inches and the farthest blindfolded basketball hook shot at 58 feet, 2.5 inches.
He humbly admits he’s still not perfect at his specialty trick shot.
“I practice, practice, practice,” Lofton says.
More than perfecting his shot, Lofton hopes he can inspire children to work as hard as they can to achieve their goals.
“Whether you are in sports, want to be a doctor or a lawyer, keep your eye on the prize and stay focused,” he says.
Gila River Arena, 9400 W. Maryland Avenue, Glendale, 623.772.3800, gilariverarena.com, 7 p.m. Friday, August 23, $20.
Talking Stick Resort Arena, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix, 602.379.2000, talkingstickresortarena.com, noon and 5 p.m. Saturday, August 24, $15-$145.