Jason Gibbons heard his introduction, ran onto the basketball court, and almost pinched himself. Was this all real?
He was in a middle school gym in Savannah, Ga., not the TD Garden in Boston. He wore the red-white-and-blue colors of the Harlem Legends, not the familiar green of the Celtics. He was listening to Larry “Gator” Rivers, not Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach.
None of that mattered. For the man who lists his occupation as basketball entertainer, Gibbons had reached his own mountain top. Many of the men around him once played for the Harlem Globetrotters. On this day in the middle of February, they were about to play a game and make the crowd laugh and gasp.
If you’ve been to the Portland Expo to watch the Maine Red Claws during the past four seasons, you’ve seen Jason Gibbons. He’s the 6-foot-4 wizard-with-a-basketball who gets your attention whenever the playing clock is stopped. You might know him as JG or the White Shadow.
He’s a 37-year-old kid who grew up in the Bath area, attending tiny Open Bible Baptist Academy. At ease with his spirituality and his ability to bring a basketball to life.
Several of his videos are on YouTube. He has his own Facebook page dedicated to the White Shadow side of his life.
That’s where Rivers found Gibbons about three years ago and contacted him. The older man from Georgia who played with Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Marques Haynes, Geese Ausbie and others on the Globetrotters started talking online with the Mainer who had always been a fan of comedy basketball.
This winter, Gibbons asked Rivers to join him at an outreach weekend involving several thousand youngsters in New Mexico. Rivers realized then the man he was following on Facebook was the same in the flesh.
“He has a love of people, love of the ball, love of the game, love of the Lord,” said Rivers, after I interrupted his round of golf in Savannah early Wednesday evening. “I knew he’d be perfect for our team.”
The two men talked in Gibbons’ hotel room in Albuquerque. They talked about race and the questions Gibbons might hear, being the only white player on the team. Rivers talked about being a black man in a world that was still fighting civil rights.
“I wanted to peel off the roof, just so everyone could hear his stories,” said Gibbons. Georgia had segregated high school basketball tournaments when Rivers was in junior high in the 1960s. His Beach High team played in the first integrated tournament in 1967 and won the championship.
Last month, Gibbons watched his new teammates, including Tyrone “Hollywood” Brown and Tree Gordon, as he played alongside them. The pair are more recent former Globetrotters. What they could do with a basketball astonished him, along with the fans in the bleachers.
Gibbons recently set some sort of record for making three consecutive no-look, half-court shots with his back to the basket. He made one in his Harlem Legends debut to the applause of the crowd but still felt he was taking a back seat to masters.
He honed his ballhandling and shotmaking tricks during years of working with mentally and physically disadvantaged children and adults. During his overnight shifts and while his clients slept, Gibbons kept himself awake with a basketball.
The Harlem Legends — who are not part of the Harlem Globetrotters — play about 45 games a year, mostly in the Southeast and West. Rivers wants his rookie for every game, but Gibbons can pick and choose. He still has his Red Claws gig with its 10 to 15 minutes of improvisational basketball wizardry and interaction with fans.
He has support in the Red Claws’ front office. Dajuan Eubanks, the team vice president is a former Harlem Globetrotter.
“He still gets that look in his eyes when you ask him about the years he played,” said Gibbons.
Gibbons still brings his basketball to more than 100 schools each year to talk about the game and about life. He will continue to run his Maine camp for special needs children in the summer. He still can’t believe he can call all of this his job.
Jason Gibbons got his call-up to the bigs.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: