Many people look to the Harlem Globetrotters for inspiration and consider the players role models. The Globetrotters have their sports heroes too, and Michael Jordan is understandably a favorite of many basketball players, such as Globetrotter Showman Special K Daley. But very few people get to meet their idols, and certainly not in the unique way Special K met “His Airness.” In a famous Gatorade commercial from 2002, the present day Jordan is playing one-on-one against a younger version of himself. Well, that younger Michael Jordan was none other than Special K. For three days of filming, Special K, donned in a number 23 Chicago Bulls uniform, got to play one-on-one against arguably the greatest basketball player ever. Following filming, special effects artists computer generated the head of a younger Jordan on Special K's body.
Special K says Kevin Garnett is his favorite player playing today, because he plays with passion and heart, two things that Special K emulates. His ultimate hero, though, is his father. “My mom passed away when I was about three years old,” says Special K, who was born in Panama City, Panama. “My father never remarried, so he did it all on his own.” Special K played many sports growing up, including soccer, baseball, football and even ping-pong, which he still enjoys today. But at age six, a basketball court was built in the cul-de-sac at the bottom of his street, and he was hooked. “Every New Year’s Eve, I would be out on the court waiting for midnight, so I could say I was the first person to make a basket that year. And in Panama, there are really only two seasons...dry season and wet season...but I was outside playing basketball no matter what." His father felt America would provide better opportunities for his boys (Special K has two older brothers), and the family moved to the U.S. in 1989. Special K starred at Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif., and Azusa Pacific University before embarking on a professional career overseas.
But during the summer of 2004, he impressed the Globetrotters with his play in NBA summer leagues, was invited to try out, and made the team. While spreading goodwill with the Globetrotters, Special K has played in dozens of countries and in some very unique settings, like on a cricket field in Jamaica, atop the old Spectrum in Philadelphia and in a darkened gym while he and his teammates wore glow-in-the-dark uniforms. He’s thrown passes to NFL stars like Jay Cutler, danced with The Wiggles, and he’s appeared on smash TV shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” and “The Bachelorette,” even giving dating advice to Bachelorette Jillian Harris. Special K believes in setting a good example and inspiring others. Never was that more evident than in the spring of 2010, when he fulfilled a promise he made to himself and his father by completing his degree in sociology by taking online courses. Despite being on the road touring the majority of the year, Special K accumulated a 3.6 GPA and made the Dean’s List. He used that same focus and work ethic in the summer of 2007, when he became a United States citizen. “I studied specific questions about the U.S. and its history and took various tests, and I passed the tests 100 percent.”
Even though he now has dual citizenship, there will always be a special place in Special K's heart for his native Panama. In October 2009, Special K played in his hometown for the first time as a Globetrotter. He received a hero’s welcome and was able to visit some of his old childhood stomping grounds. He was also honored to have an audience with the President of Panama, Ricardo Alberto Martinelli, at the Palacio de las Garzas–the equivalent of the White House–where Special K taught the President some signature Globetrotters ball handling wizardry. He’s played for the national team for the better part of the last decade, including at the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship. “When I’ve played with that ‘Panama’ across my chest, there is a great sense of pride.”
Pride is also something Special K feels when he puts on his Globetrotters uniform. “Kids tell me how they want to be like me and my teammates," he says. "I have also had adults thank me with tears in their eyes, because seeing the Globetrotters brought back fond memories from their childhood and stirred up some powerful emotions.” Special K is eager to create memories for a new generation of Globetrotter fans.