An ‘Ace’ up the sleeve of the Harlem Globetrotters [video]

Crissa “Ace” Jackson may stand only 1.63 meters tall, but she is a whiz on the basketball court. She is one of several women currently on the roster of the Harlem Globetrotters, an American professional exhibition team that combines athleticism and comedy in the way players interact on and off the court.

Jackson and generations of kids in the United States — and around the world — grew up watching the Harlem Globetrotters and enjoying the team’s positive message.

Besides spreading goodwill, over the decades the 92-year-old basketball organization broke race and gender barriers, setting an example for other sports teams. In the 1940s the all-black team helped accelerate acceptance of African-American players in U.S. professional basketball. Although the team began in Chicago, it is named after Harlem, a traditionally African-American neighborhood in New York City.

Basketball player sitting on floor with children, spinning a basketball on a young girl's finger (© Brett Meister/Harlem Globetrotters)
Ace Jackson shows Lithuanian youngsters that it’s fun to spin the ball Globetrotter style. (© Brett Meister/Harlem Globetrotters)

Jackson was the 13th woman named to the team. The first was Lynette Woodard, who played with the team from 1985 to 1987 — 10 years before the Women’s National Basketball Association was founded. The 15th woman Globetrotter, Briana “Hoops” Green, was signed in November 2017.

“I am on a team full of guys. They treat me no different. … They don’t focus on the fact that we are women, they focus on the fact that we are athletes and are all professional basketball players,” Jackson says.

The players also have a good time. “We love, we absolutely love what we do,” she says. What they do is play exhibition games that combine basketball with comic routines and feats of fancy ball handling. The team’s unique style long ago earned them the status of pop culture icons, making the Globetrotters the subject of feature films, documentaries and even cartoons — like Scooby-Doo and The Simpsons — over the years.

“It really is about creating those smiles and those memories that will last a lifetime,” Jackson says. 

Bullying is not cool

Community outreach is part of the Globetrotters’ mission. Right now their target is bullying. “Bullying is not cool,” Jackson says. The Globetrotters developed the ABCs of Bullying Prevention — which stands for action, bravery and compassion — to counter this all-too-common problem. Team members visit schools, offering advice on what kids can do about bullying.

Harlem Globetrotters basketball players dribbling the ball down the court with young children (© Brett Meister/Harlem Globetrotters)
Globetrotters Ace Jackson and Anthony “Buckets” Blakes, U.S. Department of State goodwill ambassadors, delight kids in Lithuania. (© Brett Meister/Harlem Globetrotters)

It’s a message they carried abroad when Globetrotters Jackson and Anthony “Buckets” Blakes visited Estonia and Lithuania as U.S. Department of State goodwill ambassadors in 2017. “We are aiming at bullying prevention by having fun, showing a smile, showing that you can befriend someone who is being bullied,” says Jackson.

“Some of my teammates have been bullied in the past,” she says, “and they give examples of how they’ve been bullied and what they did and where they are now.”

Two adults leading a roomful of students as they raise their arms in victory (© Brett Meister/Harlem Globetrotters)
Jackson and Blakes fire up a youthful crowd in Estonia. (© Brett Meister/Harlem Globetrotters)

Jackson enjoyed interacting with fans in Estonia and Lithuania. “I wish we could have stayed longer and touched more kids’ lives,” she says. “To be a role model to others is probably the best part of being a Globetrotter and [having] that platform to change lives … and inspire people to be whatever they want to be.”

Hear more from Ace Jackson and see some of her signature moves: