How things have changed since I worked with Globetrotters

Feb 26, 2008 11:12 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | Tiger was in Tucson most of last week, and so was I, which gave me another chance to see firsthand the magic this man can weave.

I’m not talking about his golf skills, supreme in the game, and evident once again all week and particularly on Sunday with his 8 and 7 victory over Stewart Cink in the World Golf Championship Accenture Open Match Play

I’m talking about his status as the world’s best and best known athlete, the latter title once held by Muhammad Ali, and about what Tiger Woods has done for the game of golf worldwide, and for human relations and mankind.

Between 1948 and 1953 I traveled the country as announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters. They were the number one ticket in sports in those days, but they could not eat in many restaurants nor stay in restricted hotels in the Deep South, where their white traveling companion team, Red Klotz’s Washington Generals, were not allowed to play against them. Blacks humiliating whites did not play well in Birmingham.

That is 60 years ago, a short span as human history goes, but a remarkable gap to be bridged in one man’s lifetime.

If someone had told me then, the day I had to go into a fast food joint in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and carry out 20 hot dogs and hamburgers for the best known team in basketball because they couldn’t be served in the town, that I would live to see a Tiger Woods hailed worldwide as a golfer and a man, or an African-American running for president of the United States, I would have considered them daft and out of touch with reality.

But it has happened, and Woods not only is hailed as the king of all golfers, perhaps of all time, but also is respected as one of the classiest men to play the game or participate in sports.

Woods played Aaron Baddeley in the third round in Tucson. He won, but the page-wide headline on the Arizona Daily Star’s front sports page told the story: "Barely Over Baddeley." Baddeley had 9 birdies, but was playing against an automaton, as Woods birdied 12 of the 20 holes they played.

Even Woods was impressed. "Every other hole it seemed like we birdied. I birdied, he birdied, he birdied, I birdied. It was unbelievable." The Star told the real story on its front page, with a headline that read, "Tiger wins battle of the birdies. World’s best golfer survives playoff, advances to quarterfinals."

He won there, of course, first dispatching R. J. Choi, 3 and 2 Saturday morning, then eliminating Henrik Stetson 2 up in the afternoon, then sinking Cink on Sunday.

The man is remarkable, on and off the golf course.

Sunday was not as good a day for Jon Stewart, who could not sink a putt hosting the Oscars.

He missed a lot of good shots and messed up a few, allowing his apparent friendship with Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks to lead to some lines of very poor judgment. The Oscars are not The Daily Show, and Stewart cannot shine in the role as he does in his own domain.

The show itself was mundane and spotty, with distracting clips inserted out of context that was annoying. I watched with a note pad, and it was an hour and 41 minutes into the show before I wrote a note. That came when award-winning Tilda Swinton, accepting her Oscar as best supporting actress, showed a side not usually seen, saying she was giving her agent, Brian Swardstrom, her Oscar because without him "there’s no way I would be in America at all" and noting Oscar’s head and buttocks were Swardstrom’s spitting image. She hailed her "Michael Clayton" co-star George Clooney, sitting in the front row, telling him "You rock, man!" a view shared by women worldwide.

Stewart’s best line was a gag with John Travolta. He announced, "The owner of the Boeing 707, California license plates, your landing lights are on," and Travolta bounded across the stage, patted Stewart on the shoulder, and ran offstage behind the curtains.

Highlight of the show for me, probably because I could identify with the situation, was the honoring of director Robert Doyle, now 98. Infirm but alert and articulate, he acknowledged the recognition with clarity, said all the right things and was appreciated greatly by the glitterati.

He was escorted on and off the stage by two of the evening’s loveliest ladies, and I could not help thinking, if that’s where it ends, it’s worth keeping up the fight.