"Buckets" Blakes, with the Harlem Globetrotters' Smile Patrol, helps Kaittlynn Gray spin the ball Thursday. Kaittlynn was confined at Phoebe Putney Hospital with dehydration. Blakes visited a number of patients on the pediatric floor and the inpatient rehabilitation unit.
ALBANY — Some of the youngest had never heard of the Globetrotters, but that didn’t keep the spinning red white and blue basketball from generating smiles.
“Buckets” Blakes of the world famous Harlem Globetrotters made the rounds at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Thursday, pulling out the stops for the medically confined.
Blakes represented the Globetrotters’ Smile Patrol, the team’s hospital outreach program designed to “brighten the day and lift the sprits of very special fans.” According to team sources, the Smile Patrol visits more than 200 children annually, performing and talking with patients.
The first stop for Blakes was the pediatric floor where he dropped in on 12-year-old Vantraveous Thomas, a student at Alice Coachman Elementary. Vantraveous suffers from chronic asthma, he said, and had been at Phoebe for about a week.
“Getting a visit from a basketball player was the best experience of my entire life,” Vantraveous said, after he and Blakes had spun the ball on their fingers “together.” He and his 5-year-old brother, Konterrias, were left with autographed team pictures as Blakes trotted down the hall to visit 6-year-old Kaittlynn Gray from Dawson. Kaittlynn had recently been confined at Phoebe for severe dehydration stemming from infection.
“I have a dog named Ruffles,” Kaittlynn said to Blakes.
“That’s great. Can Ruffles do this?” he asked.
The basketball rolled from one extended hand across the player’s back to the hand on the opposite side. Kaittlynn admitted it was something Ruffles couldn’t do and said she hoped she would be able to see the game at the Albany Civic Center on March 1. She loved the tricks, she said
Blakes found a bigger crowd at the gym of the Phoebe Inpatient Rehabilitation unit, where the 12 or so patients were older and all had heard of the Globetrotters. The 6-2 Blakes spent more than a half hour in the unit doing tricks, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
According to team sources, the Harlem Globetrotters came into being in 1926 when Abe Saperstein put together a small team called the Savoy Big Five for the purpose of promoting a nightclub called The Savoy Ballroom. The team itself ultimately became more popular than the club, came to travel the world and was renamed the Harlem Globetrotters.