Hubert Ausbie has traveled around the world, many times over. He has played to sold-out arenas in dozens of different countries on six different continents. Over the course of his career, he has earned the adoration of generations of fans who number in the thousands.
During his 24 years with the renowned Harlem Globetrotters, Ausbie earned the title “Clown Prince of Basketball,” while making his fortune and spreading more goodwill than basically any other sports figure on the planet. “Geese,” as he was and is still known to friends and fans, was a world-class athlete and an even better ambassador for his sport.
But when asked what accomplishment he is most proud of in his life, Ausbie, sincerely and without hesitation, points to his wife, Awilda, and their 49-year partnership.
“God has blessed me in many ways, but she’s been an amazing part of my life. I’m not sure I could have done it without her,” said Ausbie, who noted the couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in July.
“She wrote the letter to Globetrotter founder Abe Saperstein that got the ball rolling on my path to becoming a part of that team, and she held our family together through many trying times.”
BORN IN CRESCENT
Born April 25, 1938, in Crescent, Hubert Eugene Ausbie was one of eight children and the youngest of five brothers. He credits his older siblings with teaching him to play basketball at age 6 and for pushing him to excel in all sports, including baseball, tennis, and track and field.
It was, however, the academic side of things where Ausbie admits he needed a bit more than some extra nudging.
“I got two whippings a day when I was growing up ” one at school and one at home for not wanting to do my lessons. I wanted to be out playing and my heart just wasn’t in my schooling,” Ausbie said.
“But thanks to my momma and to a teacher named Ms. Glover ” they both stayed on me ” I got my priorities straight. Without my education, I probably would have never made it.”
Ausbie learned to balance sports and the classroom, and he would eventually earn a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. Along the way, the lanky 6-foot-5 kid matured into a confident young man and an incredible basketball talent. Ausbie led Crescent’s all-black Douglass High School to four consecutive state basketball championships, and as a senior scored 160 points during a three-game span in the 1956 state playoffs.
He continued to showcase his skills at the Arkansas-based school, where Ausbie was a prolific scorer and all-around performer. In his final season, he finished third in the nation in scoring behind Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor.
PROFESSIONAL HOOPS CAREER
A year earlier, Ausbie married fellow Philander Smith student Awilda Lee, and it was his wife’s letter to Saperstein that helped get him a tryout with the Globetrotters in Chicago in 1961. He was ultimately selected from a group of more than 500 hopefuls and thus began his professional hoops career.
But it wasn’t that simple.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into ” we were on the road 11 months out of the year. I had a wife and child to take care of,” explained Ausbie. “It was tough, a different city every day. It took lots of faith, love and dedication on Awilda’s behalf to make it all work.”
Ausbie took care of his part on the court thanks to a perfect blend of basketball ability and a natural genius for comedy. He immediately became a fan favorite while sharing the stage with legendary Globetrotters Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon.
“It was an amazing experience to travel the world and meet so many wonderful people, especially being a little country boy from Crescent. Growing up, it was hard to even imagine anything like it,” said Ausbie, who was honored with a rare Harlem Globetrotters Legends Ring on March 6, 1994.
TWO OF HIS BIGGEST THRILLS
Ausbie admitted two of his biggest thrills included the first time he came back to Oklahoma City to play as a Globetrotter in front of his friends, family and home state, and the 1964 trip the team made to Jerusalem when he dipped water from the Jordan River.
“For me, honestly, it was just a thrill to put on that red, white and blue uniform every day and perform. It gave me the opportunity to make people happy and that was special,” added the 70-year-old Ausbie, who returned to Arkansas in the late 1960s and has made his permanent residence there ever since.
Ausbie hung up his sneakers for good in 1985, but returned to coach the Globetrotters for several years in the Nineties. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and makes it back home as often as his busy schedule allows.
Besides Ausbie, Oklahoma is well represented in Harlem Globetrotter lore, as more than a dozen other players with state ties have played with the team, including the legendary Marques Haynes, Fast Eddie Fields, brothers Lance and Lawrence Cudjoe and Curtis Haywood.
The Harlem Globetrotters appear at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Ford Center. “Jay C. Upchurch