Julian “Zeus” McClurkin holds basketball world records for most slam dunks and most bounced three-pointers in one minute, as well as most behind-the-back three pointers.
But the greatest trick the 35-year-old native of Columbus, Ohio does for the Harlem Globetrotters, is putting smiles on the faces of people around the world. The World-Famous Harlem Globetrotters will return to the TaxSlayer Center, Moline, on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022 as part of their newly reimagined Spread Game tour of over 200 cities in 2021-2022 starting on Dec. 26, 2021.
McClurkin gave some lucky fans a sneak preview outside the arena on John Deere Commons on Nov. 20, during the Lighting on the Commons event. A lanky 6-foot-8 forward, Zeus got his mythical nickname, “for my thunderous dunk,” he said in a recent interview while in Moline. “So, you got to earn your name with the Globetrotters. They call me Zeus for the sound the ball makes when I dunk it. It was a lot more powerful when I was younger.”
McClurkin faced an uphill battle to success on the court.
He was cut from every basketball team he tried out for from 6th through 10th grade, but he kept pushing and finally made his high school team his junior and senior seasons. He played his first couple of years of college ball at a Division II program, but the departure of the head coach left Zeus on the outside looking in.
Undeterred, he enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University, and he made the basketball team as a walk-on, beating out 30 other hopefuls in the process. Zeus earned an undergraduate degree in business management at North Carolina A&T and then a master’s degree in marketing and communications from Franklin University, based in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
McClurkin was introduced to the sport by his older brother, Robert, and cites him as the most influential person in his athletic career. “I fell in love with basketball because of my brother’s passion for the sport,” he said. “I wanted to be just like him, and to this day, I still can’t beat him one-on-one.”
An extremely versatile athlete, Zeus was on the swim team growing up and also played football, tennis, baseball, and soccer. Robert is nine years older, but didn’t play hoops in high school or college.
“He’s one of the best basketball players I ever played with growing up and he didn’t have a big name, but he was sort of like in Ohio, like a street legend,” McClurkin said. “Everybody knew who he was, but he never applied himself in the school to actually succeed on the court.”
As a young student, McClurkin didn’t really have teachers to help him improve as a player. People said he was too nice and smiled too much.
“They said, all you ever do man is smile and dunk. That’s all you do,” he recalled. “I had that coach tell me that one day and then it’s just so ironic that today, I get paid to smile and dunk.”
He hadn’t heard of the world-famous Globetrotters growing up. “When I found out about the Globetrotters, man, it was such an amazing blessing. I was like, wait, they pay you to do that?” McClurkin said.
He started at Tiffin University in Ohio, playing JV his first year, averaging 27 points a game, but his coach quit his second year there.
McClurkin transferred to a Division I school, North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, and played there, earning a starting position as a walk-on (without a scholarship).
He earned his master’s online, while playing overseas in Paraguay for a year. “The agent saw one of my highlight films of me dunking on this guy on SportsCenter. It was the first time I was on SportsCenter Top 10 Plays. He called me as soon as I graduated and asked me if I wanted to come and play in South America and I said, absolutely.”
McClurkin said he scored 30 points a game, but they didn’t like his style of play and it wasn’t very fun for him. “It felt more like a job, ‘cause they expect Americans when you play overseas, they expect you to do everything and I don’t like work when it comes to playing basketball.
“I got into the sport because of pure enjoyment for the game,” he said. “I love it. If nobody ever paid me — don’t tell the Globetrotters this, but if nobody paid me for basketball, I’d still play basketball the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a joy to play.”
Introduction to worldwide legends
When McClurkin got back home, a former college teammate asked him if he wanted to play for a team called the Washington Generals, which he never heard of, since he had never heard of the Globetrotters (the Generals are their perennial losing opponents).
“He said, don’t worry about it, man. You get to travel the world and your defense sucks anyway, so you’ll be fine,” McClurkin recalled. “I traveled with the Generals for one season, and I lost more games that year than I did my entire career. But I learned something – I learned who the Globetrotters were and I learned the impact that they have on a global scale.
“You can go to Turkey right now and ask somebody if they’ve ever heard of the Chicago Bulls. Maybe they’ll say yes, but you ask them if they ever heard of the Harlem Globetrotters — Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal – immediately, they’ll start sharing these stories with you about how they went when they were a kid and then I was hooked, man. I was like, I got to do this. I got to try to get on this team.”
The Globetrotters noticed McClurkin during his Generals year (2010), and “they saw what I could do and their coach, he’s saying, who is this guy on the Generals that keeps dunking on my players?” he said. “So I ended up getting the chance to try out and I’ve been on the team now for 11 years.”
“I think everybody on our team was probably nominated for class clown because these guys and girls are hilarious to be around,” McClurkin said. “They’re really great people on the inside. I mean, you gotta be a good basketball player to be a Globetrotter, but I mean, above all in the interview process, we really find out if you’re a good person and that’s what we really care about.
“Because you’re going to be representing a brand that’s been around for 95 years and it’s a huge, rich history and it’s a huge responsibility, too, because, like I told you, people never forget the way that Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal made ‘em feel,” he said.
After the pandemic blocked the game
After the world shut down in March 2020, the team was furloughed and the players worked hard at other things. “Whether it’s training kids or staying in basketball shape and staying around basketball in some way, shape or form,” McClurkin said. “I actually went and also got my real estate license during that time as well.”
“I use my Globetrotter connections and I start crushing it in the real estate field. I closed 14 transactions last year; I’m on track for 35 this year, while still being a Globetrotter,” he said. “I’ve been excited to get this thing going again, particularly for me, I just had a son. My first child and I can’t wait to get back on the court and take a picture with him on the court.”
He and his wife’s son is named August. McClurkin chose real estate back in Columbus as a path to financial freedom.
“It’s another way to bless people’s lives. The Globetrotters, we’ve been around for 95 years putting smiles on people’s faces through entertainment, and I wanted to continue to use the skills that I’ve developed as a Globetrotter, and as a good person to continue to help people out and man, during the pandemic — people were scared to buy and sell houses,” he said.
“But this real estate market I was told, is like it’s never been seen before. But for me, as a new agent, it’s all I ever knew,” McClurkin said. “I go into and I get an opportunity like just to share stories about me being a Globetrotter. People want to work with me on that on that alone. Just, you know, the older I get, the more I realize people never forget the way that you make them feel. Whether it’s playing basketball and putting a smile on people’s face, people will always remember how the Globetrotters made them feel back in the day. And I carry that with me, not just on the court, but off the court, too.”
While they returned in some test markets over the summer in small shows, the new Globetrotters tour doesn’t start until Christmas Day. The downtime wasn’t hard at all for McClurkin, especially with his growing family and new career.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time; I play basketball every day. So it’s not like I’m missing playing the sport,” McClurkin said. “I’m not missing helping people because I’m doing that with my real estate. So I filled all those things, those voids in my life with other things and now it’s just the cherry on top. I get to get back on the court now and give back on a grand scale. So it’s been great for me, man.”
Zeus is known for his fun personality and crazy trick shots from places like Ohio State and the Mall of America, which have been featured on ESPN. Since joining the Globetrotters, he’s also transcended language barriers with appearances on popular Spanish-language TV shows like Univision’s “Republica Deportiva,” and Telemundo’s “Un Nuevo Dia.”
McClurkin’s amazing tricks include a videotaped parasailing basket (the world’s first such shot), done high above the water in Wildwood, N.J., on the Jersey Shore in summer 2019. Among his favorite places to tour was Paris, being up close and personal with the Eiffel Tower.
“The first time it was funny. They wouldn’t let me take a basketball up there ‘cause I was going to take a picture,” McClurkin said. “They thought I was going throw it off and do a trick shot. You couldn’t take one up there.
“There’s monuments that you look at on pictures and you’re like, wow, that’s huge. Like I was so disappointed when I first saw the Statue of Liberty — like the thing is tiny, man,” he said.
Crowds around the world are great and very appreciative.
“The Globetrotters of old paved the way for us,” McClurkin said. “When we go to these other countries, we’re rock stars. I mean, security following us around, paparazzi, it’s great. And on the court, each country reacts differently.
He thinks the best athletes are soccer players, because of their endurance and athleticism.
“I played soccer; just about every sport in high school and soccer was one of the most difficult,” McClurkin said. “But it also is the one sport where you have the same amount of individuality that you do in basketball.
He has accomplished all of this while dealing with exercise-induced asthma, a narrowing of the airways in the lungs that is triggered by strenuous exercise. To this day, Zeus carries an inhaler with him.
Tickets for the Jan. 1 game (which starts at 3 p.m.) are $28 to $103, with a Magic Pass $20 (for a 1:30 pre-show event on court), available at the arena box office (1201 River Drive, Moline) or HERE. For more information, visit www.harlemglobetrotters.com.