The best childhood games are often the ones we invent ourselves. For Anthony "Buckets" Blakes, a creative solution when he was a young boy growing up in a family of 10 kids helped pave the way for a career with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Blakes, who grew up in Phoenix, recalls seeing a Suns game when he was 5 and begging his parents for a Nerf ball and hoop.
"They must not have got it for me fast enough, so I took one of my dad's hats and cut a hole in the top of it," Blakes said. "I slid the brim into the top of a door, and that's what I would shoot a tennis ball into."
That early introduction to basketball eventually led to a successful college career at Wyoming and a chance to play professionally overseas before the Globetrotters came calling in the early 2000s. After an initial tryout, Blakes latched on and is now in his 13th season playing for an organization known for basketball skill and improvisation — two skills he exhibited as a kindergartner.
Blakes is part of a Globetrotters team that will face the Washington Generals for a pair of games in Minneapolis, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday at Target Center. Among his specialties is a four-point shot, a long-distance heave from specially marked parts of the court, but all of his work is a labor of love.
"I love the fact that I get a chance to make people laugh and make people happy," said Blakes, adding that he's been to 75 countries as a Globetrotter. "I think it's awesome to be able to make a 6- or 7-year-old crack up, and then you look eight seats away and you see someone who is 50 or 60 laughing just as hard."
Some of the ballhandling tricks and special shots are scripted, but much of it starts organically.
"We have a whole bunch of plays. Sometimes things happen during a season because life is unpredictable," Blakes said. "If things happen on the court that are pretty funny, we'll try to duplicate it. That's how it evolves over the years."
This year's wrinkle is the "Washington Generals' Revenge Tour." The Globetrotters are playing those lovable losers for the first time in five years. But win or lose (let's face it: win), Blakes will smile.
"The Globetrotters are looking for great basketball players, they're looking for great athletes and then they're looking for a certain personality," he said. "Not that I was flashy in college, but they kind of know I would be capable of not only doing all the cool things on the court but off the court as well."