Monday, Sept. 28, 2009 | 12:45 p.m.
The last time I saw Bob Stupak, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Clown Princes of Basketball, were spinning a basketball on his finger. I called him an eccentric Las Vegas hotel-casino entrepreneur in a column I wrote the next day.
That still holds true today.
Even though he's gone.
In deference to one of my favorite Las Vegas hotel-casino entrepreneurs, who died Friday at age 67, here's the Feb. 13, 1996 column I wrote about his once-in-a-lifetime experience as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters:
Many people who have a near-death experience talk about their lives passing before their eyes.
Not Bob Stupak, the eccentric Las Vegas hotel-casino entrepreneur. The chairman of the soon-to-be opened Stratosphere resort implied that as he lie in a coma after suffering a near-fatal motorcycle accident last year, guys like Geese Tatum and Meadowlark Lemon of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters kept flashing before his eyes.
This weekend, Stupak will be the one flashing -- or at least trying to move as quickly as 53-year-old legs will allow -- before the current Clown Princes of Basketball at Madison Square Garden. In return for a guest appearance with the 'Trotters, Stupak will make a donation of $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund.
"Growing up, I wanted to play for the Globetrotters,'' Stupak said Monday as Tyrone "Hollywood'' Brown, the latest in a long line of Globetrotter dribblingwizards, spun a basketball on the casino executive's fingertips at Crestwood Elementary School. "I never thought that would be possible.''
That was before the accident. To hear Stupak tell it, when he awoke after five weeks of intensive care, he was whistling ``Sweet Georgia Brown.''
"I wanted to do what I (always) wanted to do, but I wanted to do it more,'' he said. "I said, `If God is going to keep me alive, I've got to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.' ''
It's a good thing for the United Negro College Fund that Stupak didn't dream about the Baywatch babes during his convalescence. If that were the case, he might be spending the weekend on the beach with Pamela Lee and donating the $100,000 to Dow Chemical.
Stupak still walks gingerly as a result of the accident, and to be truthful, he looks more like the top recruit of the Washington Generals, the 'Trotters' inept former foil.
He hit the asphalt court wearing jersey No. 26, blue jeans and shiny black loafers, the likes of which Nike has never seen (Error Stupaks?). He watched from the sidelines as Brown and teammates Maurice ``Stretch'' Barnett and Dajuan "Piece'' Eubanks captivated the school kids in the famous Magic Circle.
When it was his turn, Stupak swished an underhanded free throw, a la Rick Barry.
Granted, the basket was only eight feet off the ground. But if you don't think making a free throw in front of a couple of hundred people isn't a mean trick, you haven't been watching the Rebels.
After suiting up with the Globetrotters, Stupak was asked what he might do for an encore. He said there's always the symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall (he plays a little piano), but he rejected the notion of becoming a space shuttle astronaut.
"I already did that -- two days ago,'' he said.
He has a point. Test-riding the Big Shot thrill ride atop the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower will raise the
hair off anybody's scalp.
Except maybe Curley Neal's.
Do you remember the episode from the "White Shadow" where Coolidge wanted to drop out of school and try out for the Harlem Globetrotters?
But don't ask me why.