Every once in a while, Marques Haynes allows himself to recount the amount of basketball he played during his professional career " which spanned an unimaginable 51 years " and he just shakes his head and smiles.
"Honestly, it almost sounds unbelievable to think I played so many games for so many years," said Haynes, who turned 83 in October. "It hardly seems possible. I guess I was pretty fortunate to do something that I loved to do for such a long period of time."
Over the course of those years" which saw him visit 103 countries and six different continents " he entertained fans in more than 12,000 games. The Oklahoma native averaged 21 points a contest for his career, but was known more for his extraordinary dribbling skills than for his scoring ability.
In fact, Haynes was long considered the "greatest dribbler in the world," a title he earned while showcasing his ball-handling wizardry for both the Harlem Globetrotters and the Harlem Magicians, from 1946 to 1997.
"That sounds like it might get old " especially always being on the road and playing until I was in my 60s " but I enjoyed every bit of it. I loved traveling all over the world and meeting so many people and acquiring so many wonderful friends over the years," said Haynes, who initially signed with the Globetrotters for $250 a week in 1946. "How many people get to truly do what they love to do for such a long time?"
Born and raised in Sand Springs, Haynes was influenced greatly by his two older brothers, Wendell and William Joseph, both of whom were talented athletes. But it was his sister Cecil who first taught young Marques to dribble a ball.
By the time he graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, he was an accomplished basketball player who led his team to consecutive state titles and a national title for black high schools. Haynes eventually signed to play at Langston University, where he helped the Lions to 112 victories in 115 games during his career.
"I used to practice two to three hours every day on just dribbling, or shooting or passing. Like the old saying 'practice makes perfect,' that's what I did to become the player I wanted to be," said Haynes.
So good was Haynes and his Langston mates, they remain the only college team to ever hand the Globetrotters a loss.
"That was pretty cool. I remember we beat them 74-70 and afterward they tried to sign me to a contract on the spot. But I told them my mother would kill me if I left school when I was so close to graduating," said Haynes, who eventually inked a deal shortly after graduation in 1946.
His life has unfolded on hardwood courts in historic venues like Madison Square Garden and the Houston Astrodome. But even more so in small towns with small gymnasiums packed with enthusiastic crowds hungry for a few hours of great basketball, a little magic and lots of laughs.
"I enjoyed the kids most of all," said Haynes, "their smiles and laughter. More than anything, that made it all worthwhile."
Through seven professional seasons with the 'Trotters, Haynes had become one of the team's main attractions. But after receiving a contract offer from team owner Abe Saperstein that he felt was a slap in the face, he left to start his own barnstorming squad. Over the next 19 years, he and the Harlem Magicians entertained packed houses at stops in all 50 states and around the globe.
Along the way, Haynes influenced young players everywhere, including several generations of future NBA stars like Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich and Calvin Murphy. He also turned down offers from both the Philadelphia Warriors and the Minneapolis Lakers that would have made him one of the highest paid players in the National Basketball Association.
"Marques Haynes was one of the main reasons people came out to see the teams he played on. He was a true showman in every sense of the word," said former Globetrotter teammate and fellow Okie native Hubert "Geese" Ausbie. "When people think of the Harlem Globetrotters and their great history, Marques Haynes' name will always be near the top of the list."
Haynes returned to play for the Globetrotters in 1972, teaming with the likes of Ausbie, Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal for seven memorable seasons before rejoining the Magicians and finishing out his career. He played his final game (Nov. 1997) a month after turning 71 in tiny Chetopa, Kan., located just two miles north of the Oklahoma border.
"It was quite a ride, all of it. I didn't always see eye-to-eye with the Globetrotters, but I can't help but be proud of my association with that organization," said Haynes, who lives in Dallas so he can be near his two daughters and grandchildren. "I don't really know any of their players these days, but I still go watch them play when they come to town. They still put on a good show."
When told the Globetrotters would be donating a portion of the gate revenue from their games scheduled for the upcoming weekend to Haitian relief efforts " including a 3 p.m. Sunday tipoff at Ford Center " Haynes was not surprised.
"Something tragic like that happens and that's the type of organization they have these days " it's just another reason to be proud," he said.