Sand Springs native and dribbling legend has an array of stories about the estimated 12,500 games he’s played in.

Harlem Globetrotters icon Marques Haynes estimates he played in more than 12,500 basketball games. He can tell at least that many stories and perhaps the best is the one about his coming-out party as the world's greatest dribbler.

It's 1946 and Haynes, a Sand Springs native, is a senior at Langston University. He's playing in the championship game of a national tournament and he's got a bone to pick with the opponent, Southern University.

Southern routed Sam Houston earlier in the tournament and was less than polite about it, going into showtime mode once the outcome had been decided.

"It didn't sit too well with me," Haynes said.

Haynes felt sorry not only for the humiliated players, but also for a Sam Houston assistant coach he had just met. The coach's name — he gained fame in a different sport — was Jackie Robinson.

Haynes intended to give Southern's hot dogs a taste of their own mustard. One problem: Langston coach Zip Gayles despised show-off tactics.

Blessed with a comfortable lead, and with only a couple of minutes left on the clock, Haynes decided to risk Gayles' wrath.

"I started putting my dribbling act on and the crowd got very noisy," Haynes said. "I looked up and the referees weren't calling any fouls. Guys were trying to trip me and grab my arms, but the referees' whistles were down. They were laughing. They were getting a big kick out of it. But at the same time, one of my teammates was telling me Zip was after me."

Then it sank in why the crowd kept getting louder. Fans were reacting to the fact that Gayles wasn't just hollering from the bench. He was on the court.

"Zip was right behind me and he was chasing me," Haynes said. "I didn't know where the escape was. I knew he had on shoes with leather soles and leather heels. My escape was to stop right quick and see what would happen. Sure enough, I stopped right quick and Zip slid right past me in his leather shoes. With about 10 seconds left, I made a basket and ran straight for the dressing room."

Gayles followed, and so did curse words as the coach declared Haynes would never play another game for Langston. "Coach, you are right," Haynes said. "This is my senior year and it's the last game of the season."

Gayles stormed out.

"That was a long time ago," Haynes said. "The last time I saw Zip before his death, he and I talked about that. He said 'Haynes, I really enjoyed that.' I said 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'Hell, you know what I am talking about. It was quite a thing.' "

Haynes played for Gayles one more time following the tournament. After the team returned to campus, Gayles got a telegram asking if Langston would be interested in facing the Globetrotters in Oklahoma City.

"You guys could beat them," Haynes told the coach. "That shouldn't be a problem."

Responded Gayles, "What the hell do you mean 'you guys.' You are back on the team."

That was the break Haynes needed to launch a Hall of Fame (class of 1998, same year as Larry Bird) career. Haynes scored 26 points against the Globetrotters, leading Langston to a four-point victory.

For the Globetrotters, it was a case of "if you can't beat him, recruit him." Haynes was offered a contract almost before he could finish a postgame shower. The Trotters offered to detour through Langston so Haynes could pack his belongings.

Haynes, a few months shy of a diploma, said, " 'Look, I appreciate all this, but if I were to leave school now at this point, my mother would find me somewhere and kill me,' and I wasn't ready to die right then."

So, Haynes finished school and then enlisted for the mother of all road trips.

During stints with the Globetrotters and other hoops troupes from 1946-97, Haynes visited 106 countries and every state in the union, meeting people with titles like pope, president and king (rulers and Nat King Cole).

Asked if he needs a road map anywhere in the U.S., Haynes said, "I know the country pretty good. Those towns I didn't play in, I passed so close going by that I could reach out and touch them."

Haynes wouldn't recommend anyone attempt to play as many games as he did. "Some years that we played, we would start the season October 15th on one year and end it October 14th the next year and start a new season the next night."

Haynes has logged so many miles that he has earned the right to take up permanent residence on his couch in Plano, Texas. But he still accepts invitations for speaking engagements and charity events. Playing in a Tulsa Sports Charities golf tournament in May, Haynes was in putt-only mode because of tennis elbow.

"I haven't played tennis in 40 years," he said. "Maybe it's shooting elbow or dribble elbow."

The golfers in Haynes' group were treated to tales they won't hear anywhere else.

He recalled the Globetrotters traveling in a metal bus with no heater and, during winter months, icicles formed inside the cab. Haynes said you had to break the icicles because you didn't want to hit a bump and get poked in the head.

Haynes said he had pleasant memories of his childhood in Sand Springs. He said he got to know a lot of good people and made a lot of good friends, black and white, while growing up in a Depression-era (and segregation-era) home on the south section line. The box factory across the street came in handy because cardboard boxes were tacked on walls of the family's three-room shotgun house for insulation.

According to Haynes lore, he learned to dribble on the dirt yard at his home. After playing at Booker T. Washington High School in Sand Springs, he got a $25 college scholarship from his church.

"I had never ever heard of a scholarship," Haynes said. "I thought they were going to give me the money that day. They said I had to get to Langston to sign the check, which was all right, because I figured if I signed the check, they would give me $25. That didn't happen either. That was for the entry fee."

Haynes said he hitchhiked to Langston with a quarter in his pocket. He invested part of the quarter on a bottle of Pepsi and a candy bar. He said he caught 13 rides and traveled the last two miles by way of horse and wagon.

While in college, Haynes never went into his dribbling act at practices because he knew Gayles had zero tolerance for that kind of stuff. Players fooled around in the gym when Gayles wasn't around, said Haynes, but a sentry was stationed at the door just in case Gayles was on the way.

Haynes doesn't wish he had played in the NBA. Why should he? He has nothing to prove. Making the Hall of Fame gave Haynes all the hoops credibility he needed, never mind that he twice helped the Globetrotters (who could actually play when they weren't jestering) beat George Mikan's Lakers.

"Out of the eight and sometimes 10 guys we had during those years, at least eight and probably nine of us could have played in the NBA," Haynes said. "Blacks weren't admitted to the league back then and they weren't admitted to the league until after we had beaten the Lakers a second time."

In 1950, NBA teams sought to pluck Haynes from Globetrotter owner Abe Saperstein's roster.

Haynes would have broken the NBA color barrier had negotiations been successful. Haynes later had other chances to play in the NBA, but no offer was lucrative enough.

"If they had been paying the kind of money they are paying now, I would have gone with them," he said.

Haynes enjoys people (like Will Rogers, who said he never met a man he didn't like) and storytelling, but there are two things you can't get from him. One is a basketball. He once dribbled out the final 7:45 of a game to preserve victory because his foul-plagued team was down to three players. The other is his age.

Haynes left his age blank on paperwork that he submitted to the Hall of Fame. It is believed he was born around 1925, which means he was still playing when he was in his 70s. Haynes said he stopped counting age when he was 37 1/2.

"I put myself on hold," he said. "I have been on hold for a long time."

When it was suggested to Haynes that perhaps he will live one year for every smile he helped the Globetrotters put on faces, he said, "I would be around for a long, long time."


Jimmie Tramel 581-8389

jimmie.tramel@tulsaworld.com