They call him “Slick” Willie Shaw in honor of his mastery of basketball.
“My journey started 12 years ago,” he says. “I was playing in an All Star game in Vegas when the Globetrotters saw me.
“I’d never seen the Harlem Globetrotters play. They flew me out to Los Angeles to play in the season opener.
“The first time I saw them play was at the same time I first played for them,” Shaw says. “I was in awe.”
The game at the Staples Center was sold out.
“There were so many celebrities there — Al Pacino, Pamela Anderson, Dr. Dre,” Shaw says. “I knew I was getting to be part of something very special.”
Shaw was in Savannah earlier this year on Feb. 24 to discuss the team’s upcoming show at the Savannah Civic Center. He also stopped to visit hospitalized children and brighten their day.
This year, the Globetrotters will introduce the first-ever 4-point line. The 4-point line will be located 30 feet from the basket — 6 feet, 3 inches beyond the NBA’s 3-point line.
The 6-foot, 6-inch forward is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Originally from the Bronx, Shaw grew up across the street from a basketball court.
“I started playing when I was 6 years old,” he says. “I always wanted to play professional sports.”
A four-year starter at St. John’s University in New York, Shaw helped lead St. John’s to the NIT Championship in 2003. An outstanding basketball handler, Shaw can spin two on his fingers in all different directions when the Globetrotters perform their Magic Circle.
Being a Globetrotter has taken Shaw around the world. He also has entertained the U.S. troops on the Globetrotters’ annual holiday military tour.
“I have positive memories of myself with people all over world, memories that will last a lifetime,” Shaw says. “I had somebody come up to me and say he’d waited 30 to 40 years to see the Harlem Globetrotters.
“I’m getting a chance to have a positive impact and make memories and inspire youths. It’s very inspiring to see a little kid try to spin the ball on his fingers and do tricks.
“We bring three kids up at the same time,” he says. “It could be three girls, three boys, anyone who is able and who wants to.”
For Shaw, it’s one of the best parts of a game.
“I love it,” he says. “I can see the kids run back to give their mom a high five. Just to see the smile on their faces is great. I love to see people smile.”
Visiting hospitals and schools also is a highlight for Shaw.
“I’m known as an Ambassador of Goodwill,” he says. “I go in and help a little girl spin a ball on her finger.
“Later, I find out I’ve motivated her to get up and walk today. I put a smile on her face.
“We also have the ABCs of bully prevention so that kids can help prevent bullying in the schoolyard,” Shaw says. “A is for action, B is for bravery and C is for compassion.”
Being with the Globetrotters has been a dream come true for Shaw.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he says. “Looking back, it was a great opportunity and opened so many doors and avenues for me.”
However, Shaw won’t be playing at the Savannah game.
“I’m headed overseas to Europe to do Ambassador of Goodwill work,” he says. “But Savannah is going to have a great show with Spider, Too Tall and a bunch of great guys.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Harlem Globetrotters 2017 World Tour
When: 7 p.m. March 9; Magic Pass Pre-Show is at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Arena, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
Cost: $22-$90; Magic Pass Pre-Show is $22
Info: savannahcivic.com, 912-651-6550