Special to the Sun
Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Scooter Christensen ball-spinning
Scooter Christensen makes a living spinning a basketball on his head and nose. His job: Put a smile on a fans’ face — something he has mastered.
The Bishop Gorman High graduate is part of the Harlem Globetrotters, where his ability to master tricks used by the touring basketball team in their games — a combination of theater, comedy and basketball — has earned him much notoriety and a spot in the Guinness World Records.
Christensen, 33, is a seven-year veteran of the Globetrotters, entertaining fans in more than 60 countries and realizing along the way that there’s more to basketball than the action on the hardwood. It’s all about having a good time.
On Wednesday, he’ll be back in Las Vegas when the Globetrotters and play an exhibition game at 7 p.m. at the Orleans Arena. Late last week, Christensen visited Marshall Darnell Elementary School in Las Vegas, showing off his spinning tricks and bringing goodwill in his cherished role as one of the organization’s ambassadors.
“The best thing about my job is we get a chance to make people smile,” he said. “I love giving back to the community. I always said I wanted to give back if I made it big.
“There is often a language barrier when we go to other countries, but smiling is a universal language,” he said. “When you are smiling and having a good time, you forget about everything else.”
Christensen won a state championship in 1997 at Gorman and had a storied career at the University of Montana, setting the school’s assist record and leading them to the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Not ready to end his career, he spent time playing in the professional minor leagues in places such as North Dakota before catching the eye of a scout with the Phoenix Suns during a NBA camp.
The Suns couldn’t offer him a roster spot, but had an appealing alternative: working as the video coordinator in helping study future opponents. And, he would be able to continue pursuing his playing dreams by training in their facility.
“I always look at the bigger picture,” Christensen said. “I didn’t care if they wanted me to pickup towels, at least I had a job with a NBA team.”
Then, one day during a Suns’ practice, Christensen caught a break of a lifetime. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Christensen was asked to run the plays of the Philadelphia 76ers in practice, coming off screens like star guard Allen Iverson in preparation for an upcoming game.
On this day, he was every bit as good as Iverson. “I couldn’t miss. I hit one, two, three in a row,” he said. “They asked, ‘Who is this kid?’ You could say I was in the right place at the right time.”
A scout from the Globetrotters was in the arena, and recruited Christensen to join their organization — an offer he didn’t hesitate accepting. Christensen, who had watched the Globetrotters as a child on the “Scooby-Doo” cartoon, would soon become of the group’s most-respected players.
During the 2010 NBA all-star weekend, he set the world record for spinning the ball on his head for 7.9 seconds and nose at 5.1 seconds. He’s also appeared on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” “Hell’s Kitchen” “The Bachelorette,” and “The Wendy Williams Show."
Learning the ins and outs of the Globetrotters’ game routine was easier said than done, but Christensen took the same approach as preparing for a big game.
“It took hours and hours of practice,” he said of the spinning trick. “I remember my first practices and watching some of the veterans and just thinking, ‘Wow.’ But those guys showed me the tricks of the trade and I was able to add my own style to it. That competitive edge never leaves you. You still have to be able to turn it one when you get on the court.”
He calls playing in places like Jerusalem, Africa and for the military in Iraq some of the highlights of his career. And, of course, coming back to his hometown of Las Vegas.