A love of a sport that North Shore Towers resident Charlie Hoffman discovered at a young age eventually led him to play against the Harlem Globetrotters.
A native of the Bronx, Hoffman was in the seventh grade when he first started playing basketball. While attending James Madison High School, he played on the school’s basketball team.
“We played in Madison Square Garden for the city championship in 1955,” said Hoffman, who played center and forward. “We lost to Jamaica High School.”
After high school, Hoffman received a basketball scholarship to attend Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He majored in English and is now a middle school English teacher at a school in Jamaica.
Even after college, Hoffman remained active in basketball. He first played on a minor league team called the Barons in the East League. Hoffman remained with them for one year.
The next step in Hoffman’s basketball career was to try out for Washington Generals, a team that traveled with the Harlem Globetrotters and played against them. Hoffman’s try out was at Madison Square Garden.
“I wanted to travel,” Hoffman said of his desire to play on the team. “I thought it was a great idea.”
Hoffman was given a position on the team as a forward, meaning that he had to take a year off from teaching. He said that the two teams would play about 180 games in 205 nights. As a member of the Washington Generals, Hoffman played against the Globetrotters all over the United States and even in Canada and Mexico.
In describing what it was like to play against the Globetrotters, Hoffman said it was a “joke.”
“I thought we were better than they were, [that] we had better players,” he said. “It was a show, so you can’t spoil the show.”
Hoffman explained that, during the first and third quarters of the game, the Washington Generals and Globetrotters would play “straight basketball,” which he enjoyed. However, during the second and fourth quarters, Hoffman said that they would fool around, and perform different tricks.
For instance, Hoffman said that one person would chase around a player who was a really good dribbler.
Also, Hoffman was involved with a trick with Harlem Globetrotters player Meadowlark Lemon, who he said had big hands but was not a great player. During the routine, Lemon would palm the ball and move it in Hoffman’s face, eventually putting the ball in the back of Hoffman’s uniform shirt.
But, regardless of what happened during any of the quarters, both teams already knew who would win – the Globetrotters. Hoffman said the Washington Generals were not allowed to win.
“People didn’t come to see the Globetrotters lose,” said Hoffman, who has lived at the Towers with his wife Gail since 1996 and has two sons, Rick and Jeff.
Hoffman said that one of his most memorable experiences while playing on the Washington Generals was when his car got stuck during a blizzard while traveling through Fargo, North Dakota. He explained that, although the Globetrotters had their own bus, the Washington Generals would travel in two cars with four players in each one.
It was Hoffman’s turn to drive, and he swerved and ended up going face down into a ditch, but nobody was hurt. The Globetrotters’ bus drove by, and Hoffman’s three teammates got on it, leaving him along with the car.
“If it wasn’t for the fact that some farmer came along with a tractor and pulled me out, I would have still been there,” Hoffman said.
Once his car was out of the ditch, Hoffman managed to catch up to the bus, which by that time had also gotten stuck in the snow. His teammates got back in his car and they made their way to the next town.
Another memory that Hoffman holds from his basketball playing days is from a summer while he was playing in a league when he was in his ‘30s. He said that he had a great time during the game and, afterwards, was standing next to one of his sons as the sun was going down and just thought that he couldn’t believe his playing days would come to an end one day.
“That’s an image in my mind I’ll never forget,” said Hoffman, who also got his two sons interested in the sport.
Even though he no longer plays basketball, Hoffman said there are several lasting things the sport has given him, including his education and English degree. Also, he made many friends through it.
“I made my best friends in basketball,” he said. “If a guy is a good guy on the court, he’s usually a good guy off the court.”