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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Talking "Amazing Race" with Flight Time and Big Easy

With the Harlem Globetrotters arriving for a Resch Center show tomorrow, Channel Surfing was able to talk shop with Herb “Flight Time” Lang and Nathaniel “Big Easy” Lofton before the holidays. Both proved why they were fan favorites on the show by graciously answering questions about their time on CBS' "The Amazing Race" -- they finished fourth -- and how their role with the Globetrotters has changed post-reality television.

No offense, Green Bay. But when Herb “Flight Time” Lang and Nathaniel “Big Easy” Lofton arrive in town Wednesday with their Harlem Globetrotters teammates, they’ll probably be wishing they were still on the warm and sandy Dubai leg of “The Amazing Race.”

“Hey, I got there last year around the same time. Like a foot and a half of snow,” said Lang, the Globetrotters’ resident ball-handling wizard and reality TV junkie.

“So I know what’s going on. I think I’m ready for it.”

As their name suggests, the Globetrotters rack up plenty of frequent-flier miles crisscrossing from country to country for shows. But this time, Lang and Lofton arrive in the frigid Midwest with an even thicker travelogue thanks to their finish in the final four of Season 15 of the Emmy Award-winning reality competition.

The CBS show — which zips from Vietnam to United Arab Emirates to Estonia in a matter of days — features various challenges aimed at mentally and physically exhausting its competitors as they race around the world for a $1 million prize. As expected, the game’s twists and turns can put even the most athletically imposing team on its back — something the Globetrotters learned during a brutal roadblock in Prague, Czech Republic.

In that episode, a competitor from each team was required to unscramble a set of letters and spell “Franz” — a reference to novelist Franz Kafka — before receiving a clue. Unable to figure out the puzzle, Lofton chose to accept a four-hour non-completion penalty, leading to the Globetrotters’ elimination.

“You know, it wasn’t that painful to watch again. Well, maybe a little bit,” Lofton said, laughing.

Though it looked like a snap decision on TV, Lofton said he was stuck in a room for three hours, unable to crack the code without any breaks. Frustrating as it was, Lang never thought to chastise his teammate for blowing the mission.

“That’s just who we are,” Lang said. “I mean, how could I be mad at him? Of course, I wanted to make it to the next round, but we had two first-place finishes before that. Won two vacations. Some teams in the race didn’t win anything. So without him, we wouldn’t have made it that far anyway. There was no way I was going to put unnecessary pressure on him. No way.”

Added Lofton: “All we wanted to do was have fun. We weren’t going to get caught up in bickering and yelling at each other, that sort of thing. When you have the camera on you 24-7, you have no choice but to be yourself. And we’re naturally good friends, entertainers, so I hope people were able to see that come across.”

Appreciation for the Globetrotters’ rare display of reality show restraint has continued to follow them post-”Race.” Fans have written e-mails and comments on the Globetrotters’ Web site letting both know that their patience and understanding is being used as a teaching tool in schools and at home.

Even better, “Race” watchers who didn’t previously have any interest in basketball are now coming to arenas to share in the unique Globetrotters-fan bond, Lang said.

“I know a lot of people were disappointed when we lost, but we’ve received so many positive thoughts about how kids look up to us and we’re being used as role models for teamwork,” he said. “They say, ‘What would Flight Time and Big Easy do?’ Honestly, that’s even more rewarding than winning a million dollars.”

Saying that with a straight face might not sound plausible. Then again, as Globetrotters who earn a paycheck traveling the world, Lang and Lofton are just happy to still be playing basketball after stellar college careers.

Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Lofton was asked to try out for the Globetrotters after attending a charity show in his temporary home of Houston. The five-year vet — appropriately nicknamed “Big Easy” after his New Orleans hometown — played his college ball at Southeastern Louisiana.

Lang, a conference scoring champ at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., turned up on the Globetrotters’ radar after his win at the National Association of Basketball Coaches slam dunk contest during the 1998 Final Four.

The 11-year vet said it’s still hard to believe that he’s part of a Globetrotters lineage that includes legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal.

“In 84 years, there have been right around 400 total Globetrotters. That’s not a whole lot of players over 84 years,” Lang said. “So to carry on that tradition and to be ambassadors of goodwill in the United States is something special. We’re the home team in any country we go to. No other team can say that.”

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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