Coach Orlando Antigua had just graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in December of 1995 when he received a call from the Harlem Globetrotters.
When they told him he was invited to try out for the team, he was taken aback.
“I said ‘you sure you’ve got the right guy?’” Antigua said. “I wasn’t one of those flashy players, but I played hard and I was enthusiastic.”
At the time, Antigua was excited for the opportunity, but he didn’t envision himself playing past the summer.
“When I got done in December, they reached out and I thought I would do it for a couple of months to get me to the summertime to then get me prepared for the (NBA) Summer League teams.”
Antigua went to the tryout, which he said was no different than a tryout for a typical professional basketball team. They ran him through shooting drills, jumping, and ball handling, and he played 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 games against other players trying out. When he left the tryout, Antigua wasn’t sure he would get another call.
“It was pretty competitive; I didn’t know if I made it,” Antigua said. “They asked me to come back to another practice and then the next day I was starting the next game in Pittsburgh where I had just recently graduated and played college ball, so it was really unique and I was happy to have that opportunity.”
Even after making the team, Antigua had his mind set on trying to play basketball with the NBA or in Europe, but as he spent time with the Globetrotters, he grew to enjoy the lifestyle.
“I decided to stay because of the security of doing what we were doing with a great organization, the experience of being around great players and wanting to grow and become a part of that organization,” Antigua said.
The most difficult challenge in the transition from playing at Pittsburg to being a Globetrotter was the strenuous schedule of the Globetrotters.
“You practice every day, two hours before the game,” Antigua said. “You get about 45 minutes off before the game, then you’ve got the game. You’re traveling in the morning to the arenas. You get one day off a month and normally that day you’re traveling. It’s a pretty rigorous schedule.”
While playing roughly 280 games a year wore Antigua down, mentally and physically, he played through the fatigue and a few injuries for the fans.
“It’s difficult. A lot of it is mind over matter because your body is broken down, you’re tired and fatigued,” he said. “You don’t know if it’s a family’s first time seeing you, or if they’ve been to other games and they have a certain level of excellence they’re expecting as they bring their kids.”
Antigua wasn’t one of the showmen — the players who do the trick shots. Instead, he played the competitive parts of the game and interacted with the crowd.
“I was more of a supporting cast, I did a little bit of everything,” Antigua said. “Initially, my job was to come in and play the competitive part of the game. That was around four to five minutes a night – so the rest of the time, I was enjoying the show like the rest of the fans. Then I realized, to be a bona fide Globetrotter, you have to get incorporated into the show aspect of it. So I started
asking questions and started getting better.”
Antigua’s favorite trick shots range from Matt “Showbiz” Jackson’s underhanded three-quarter court shot to some of the high-flying dunks any one of the players would unleash.
The most memorable dunk he saw was from teammate Michael Wilson in April of 2000.
“Mike Wilson broke the world record at 12 feet,” Antigua said. “We were at Disney for training camp and he caught an alley-oop and dunked it on a 12-foot rim. I knew he was special, but he tried and tried and finally got it and it was really special to be a part of that.”
During Antigua’s seven years with the Globetrotters, he played on every inhabited continent and met several celebrities. His favorite trip was to South Africa to play for Nelson Mandela.
“It was a great experience,” Antigua said. “We performed for him on his birthday. He had about three or four thousand kids from his children’s foundation that we performed for. Getting a chance to shake his hand and meet him face to face, you could get a sense of how special he was.”
Antigua retired from the Globetrotters in 2002. He said he decided to leave the team because the rigorous lifestyle didn’t allow him enough time to be with his family.
“I just thought it was time for me,” he said. “Recently, I had just gotten married and my daughter was born and I wanted to spend time with my family and start the next phase of my career.”
Looking back, Antigua said he’s thankful he received that call from the Globetrotters because he doesn’t know where he would be without them.