When Washington Wizards’ assistant coach Pat Delany entered the NBA's health and safety protocols early Monday, assistant Joseph Blair was suddenly thrust into the head coaching spot.
Blair, 47, has a tremendous basketball résumé, having played for over a decade in Europe and worked as an assistant coach in the NBA, college and G-League. But what distinguishes Blair’s past from others NBA coaches is the unique experience he had during the late 1990s.
“The Harlem Globetrotters—amazing experience, quite frankly,” Blair said to reporters ahead of Washington’s MLK Day matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. “Number one, let’s start by, you never have any away games, which is awesome. The crowd is always on your side.”
That’s right, Blair spent 1997-98 with the exhibition team between stints in France and the now-folded United States Basketball League. He didn’t start his coaching career until 2013, so his experience with Harlem was one of the first of his professional career. It holds a special place in his heart to this day.
“Also, for me personally, it was a great time in my life because it reinvigorated my love for the game of basketball,” Blair said. “At some point, you as a player begin to take things so seriously, and so it becomes a stressor.”
Though fans can always sit and relax and watch the half-basketball/half-entertainment-production of the Globetrotters and think it’s a walk in the park for the players, that’s far from the truth, according to Blair.
“I think the Harlem Globetrotters isn’t an easy job. I mean, kudos to the guys who do it now and even in my past. You play every single day, double-headers on Sundays. You have more games in three months than the total NBA season, so it’s a lot of work,” Blair said.
“But the fun you have, the camaraderie with your teammates, and then just being able to interact and see the smiles on people’s faces—I mean, even to this day in the NBA there’s not a lot of time to see families in these stands, but we got a chance to experience that with the Harlem Globetrotters, to see the bonds and memories you create.”
Blair will have the chance to win his first-ever game as head coach on Monday in D.C. as the Wizards take on the 76ers. If all else fails, Blair might even want to step in for the team and showcase some of the pizzazz he had back with Harlem.
“I still today can do all the great tricks. I’m pretty cool at it…When I was with the Globetrotters, my name was ‘Hair Blair,’ because I had the big afro.”