Harlem Globetrotters members honor heroic girl, teach key moves to kids in basketball clinic

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Alexus Osborn spins a basketball on her finger with a little help from Harlem Globetrotter 'Buckets' Blakes during a summer skills course at the Murray-Scholls 24-Hour Fitness. Osborn was recognized as a Junior Phenom for helping to save her family during a house fire last April. Petite, bespectacled and sweetly shy, 7-year-old Alexus Osborn doesn't fit the typical profile of a lifesaver a family might count on to help them escape a burning structure. Yet save a family's life she did last March when a clothes-dryer fire consumed the house where her father, Bill, lived in Oak Grove with two of her siblings and his fiance.

Now living part-time with her dad in Aloha, Alexus' calm actions in informing dad her bedroom was filling with smoke (see accompanying story) got her recognized by none other than the Harlem Globetrotters. The legendary exhibition basketball outfit of natural-born athletes and irrepressible showmen named Alexus a "Junior Phenom" to mark their visit to 24-Hour Fitness facility at 11100 S.W. Murray Scholls Place for a three-segment series of children's Summer Skills Clinics for basketball on Tuesday.

Globetrotters Anthony "Buckets" Blakes and William "Bull" Bullard represented the touring team as part of a five-day visit to the Portland area, including stops at 24-Hour Fitness facilities in Clackamas as well as Beaverton.

During a short break in the 12:30 p.m. clinic, which included fast-paced shooting drills and strategy exercises led by Blakes' and Bullard's nimble hands and endearingly zany personalities, the players presented Alexus with the Junior Phenom Award, naming her a Globetrotters "Honorary Captain."

"We're looking for our Global Junior Phenom," Blakes said, getting the 30 or so awestruck kids to quiet down just a bit. "We're going to recognize someone for doing something special. Alexus let her dad know what was going on and saved the whole family."

Presenting a plaque for her smart, heroic actions, Blakes spun one of the Globetrotters red-white-and-blue basketballs on his extended pinky finger, then seamlessly transferred the ball to Alexus's considerably tinier, upward-pointed digit. As the ball kept spinning and Alexus grinned, the clinic kids, their parents and siblings who looked on erupted into applause.

With Alexus and her dad retreating to the sidelines to talk with members of the news media, Blakes and Bullard kept clinic participants running through the paces with two lines going for lay-ups at the basket. The pros reminded their proteges to dribble with the left or right hand as they approached the regulation-height basket from one angle or another. "Punishment" for the scrimmage team that fell short involved push-ups, which Blakes would sometimes begrudgingly take part in himself.

Learning the fun way

The visit was the Globetrotters' first to greater Portland for the two-hour clinics geared toward kids aged 6 through 12 of all experience levels. The summer clinic tours — when the full team is off its exhibition game circuit — were introduced in 2012 to select markets, with parents and kids alike giving glowing reviews based on the fun factor and the Globetrotter players' sometimes downright unorthodox approach to ball-handling fundamentals. Kids get the opportunity to get coached by actual players on the team, learn tricks and drills while also learning important character-building messages delivered by the team, which sends various players out to cover more than 400 clinics each summer.

The success of last year's tour prompted an expansion into new markets, Portland one of them, in a partnership with 24-Hour Fitness outlets.

"Just seeing the (Globetrotters) fuels such a strong contribution to team spirit and the fun of athletics in general," said Shawn Thurston, manager of the Murray-Scholls 24-Hour Fitness. "It's fun for the youths and very encouraging for them to see the guys be so inspiring."

Eloisa Miller, a Keizer resident, brought her 9-year-old son, Elijah, to the clinic on his own request after a Globetrotter visited his elementary school one time.

"He's been playing since he was 5 or 6," she said while watching the clinic court side. "He's always saying he wants to be a professional basketball player."

She got a kick out of the stunned silent reaction from the kids after Bullard and Blakes bounded onto the gym floor to introduce themselves.

"The kids don't know how to react, and were pretty quiet," she said with a chuckle. "The players were like, 'Hey, where's our greeting?'"by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Harlem Globetrotter William 'Bull' Bullard shows young athletes how to properly dribble during a summer skills course at the Murray-Scholls 24-Hour Fitness on Tuesday.

Inspiration-passing game

A Globetrotter for six years, Detroit, Mich.-native Bullard said being on the team fulfills a childhood dream to be part of a professional basketball team.

"What better job could you have than being a Harlem Globetrotter, a role model and an ambassador of goodwill?" the 27-year-old asked, noting the role is a combination of carrying on the team's 87-year tradition while finding your own groove. "You've got to be a good person overall. They can kind of mold you (into a Globetrotter), but you've got to be yourself on the court."

While he deeply respects the legendary personas and performances of his predecessors, Bullard recognizes the importance of keeping the current team fresh and innovative. Moves such as the four-point shot 35 feet away from the basket and maneuvering two basketballs more smoothly than most players do with one keeps things sharp and lively.

"We try to stick with what we know, but we are trendsetters," he said. "We always try to come up with something different and new."

He credits his break in basketball, which his grandmother strongly encouraged him to pursue, with arresting a troubled youth that could have led in a much darker direction. Bullard hopes the summer clinics demonstrate that practicing a skill, engaging in camaraderie and having fun with a popular, competitive game gives children — particularly those from less-than-stable backgrounds — a sense of possibilities about what they can pursue for themselves.

"Everyone needs a role model in life," he said. "We learned from the older (Globetrotter) guys, and that trickles down, and now we're carrying on the legacy.

"These kids don't have to be the best basketball players," he added, "but they're gonna leave here with something."by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Harlem Globetrotter William 'Bull' Bullard shows off his basketball spinning technique during a summer skills course.

Dad credits daughter's alertness with saving lives

It wasn't the first time 7-year-old Alexus Osborn had knocked on a parent's bedroom door in the middle of the night in search of assistance or comfort. But when she woke up her dad, Bill, at 2:30 a.m. on March 19, at their Oak Grove home, it was something else entirely.

"I said, 'What's wrong Princess?'" recalls Bill Osborn, who now resides with Alexus in Aloha. "She said the house is smoking and she couldn't breathe in her room. It was a surreal moment."

At that point, the smoke hadn't made it to Bill, whose bedroom was directly above the laundry room, where a fire started in the clothes dryer. He had no idea anything was amiss. After Alexus's gentle warning of danger, Bill — realizing at least two other people and a dog were in the house — sprang into action.

"I was freaking out inside, but I was going through the steps," he said.

Fortunately, Bill Osborn III, his 18-year-old son, hadn't returned home from a night out, so his smoke-filled bedroom was empty. With smoke and fire concentrated mostly in the back of the house, the gathered family — including Jennifer, who is now Bill's fiance, and Bill's 15-year-old son, Lexington — had a clear shot to the front door. Going around back to the sliding glass door, Lexington used a fishing pole to dislodge the stick that blocked the door and got family dog Libby safely out of the room.

"We all got out," Bill said, still chastising himself for not re-installing smoke detectors after taking them down for a painting project. "We got real lucky. I should've taken accountability. Luckily, I can stand here after the fact and realize that."

For her calm and brave actions that night in March, Little Alexus was honored as a Harlem Globetrotters "Junior Phenom" on Tuesday by team members Anthony "Buckets" Blakes and William "Bull" Bullard at the Murray-Scholls 24-Hour Fitness center.

Bill Osborn gives his daughter full credit for saving the three lives on the second floor of the house, which the family doesn't plan to return to.

"If she hadn't woken up and got me, there's no doubt in my mind things would have been a lot worse," he said. "I'm thankful everything worked out."

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