REVIEW: ‘Harlem Globetrotters: Play It Forward’

Craig Robinson hosts Harlem Globetrotters: Play It Forward
Craig Robinson hosts ‘Harlem Globetrotters: Play It Forward.‘ (Image credit: Hearst Media)

Harlem Globetrotters: Play It Forward premieres October 1. Craig Robinson, who played warehouse guy Darryl on The Office, hosts the Hearst Media Production Group half-hour syndicated show. 

Much more than just trick basketball, the program sends the current Globetrotters out to various communities, where people are doing a bit of good for the neighborhood. The players pitch in on the community projects, and pass along a couple hoops tricks too. 

After Robinson greets viewers from a basketball court set, to the tune of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” of course, the first segment in the pilot sees players, including TNT, Torch and Hammer (all Trotters go by nicknames), venture to Adair Park in Atlanta, where art students have painted stunning murals on the surface of a public basketball court. The players pitch in on the “Art in the Paint” initiative by affixing rims to the barren backboards and trying a few trick shots. 

“When you restore these basketball courts, you essentially restore a community,” Torch said. 

Next, some Trotters, including Bulldog, Cheese and Hot Shot (Jahmani “Hot Shot” Swanson has the “genetic condition of dwarfism,” according to the Globetrotters website, and is the shortest Globetrotter in history), visit an urban garden in Washington, D.C., and learn about healthy drinking water. 

The segments end with the Globetrotters showing off their hoops skills, and teaching the kids a trick or two. 

Next up in the pilot is a segment about bullying, where a young man reflects on being bullied in school, including schoolmates making fun of his Globetrotters jersey. Globetrotter Zeus visited the school to talk about bullying, and brought the bullied child up to the front of the assembly for a hug. Globetrotter Bull mentions “spreading positivity and joy in each of these communities that we’re gonna touch.”

The final segment sees Donte Harrison, known as Hammer, skydive from 13,000 feet — and dunk a basketball just before he lands. “I just love the feeling of doing things that are out of this world,” he explains. 

That segment could’ve gone a few minutes longer, but it is nonetheless a thrill to watch. 

The Globetrotters were TV staples in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including taking on the Professor, Skipper and other castaways on The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (opens in new tab)

Here in New York, the show is on WNBC, at 11 a.m. on Saturdays, part of NBC’s “The More You Know” programming block. 

Besides hosting The Masked Dancer on Fox, Robinson’s roles include the movies Hot Tub Time Machine and Dolemite Is My Name. He’s funny and likable in his short scenes introducing segments. 

While the Play It Forward segments end with a few basketball tricks, I could’ve used a bit more on-court action — the Trotters trouncing the modern-day Washington Generals with an array of otherworldly court craftsmanship. A bit more basketball would help to make the likes of Bulldog, Cheese and Hammer household names, the way Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal were decades ago, which would give the community segments a little bit more sizzle. More hoops tricks would probably also work well for the Play It Forward target audience on social platforms. 

But Play It Forward is an uplifting show that passes on positive messages for kid viewers — and will even toss them a few real-life facts. ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.