Harlem Globetrotter Zeus McClurkin on Resilience and Persistence

By Barbara Evangelista, Publisher February 5, 2020

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Harlem Globetrotter Zeus McClurkin, in advance of the Globetrotters' game at the Tsongas Center on Wednesday, February 19, at 7 PM.  (Tickets available here.)  Zeus was spending the day teaching trick shots to kids at the Boys & Girls Club and local schools, speaking about anti-bullying, and visiting Boston Children's Hospital.  He spent an hour or so at the Tsongas Center demonstrating some of his moves and patiently teaching some fun shots to the Tsongas Center general manager.  I was struck by the fact that he actually didn't make a perfect granny shot or backward shot from half-court the first time, or even the 5th or 10th time; but he kept at it, never got frustrated, perfecting his technique until it seemed almost effortless. (It still astounds me that someone can throw a ball backward, over his head without looking, over a distance of 25 feet and make a basket.)

Zeus is an exceptional young man.  When I read his biography, I was struck at how determined and persistent he has been in his athletic pursuits.  While he was active in several sports as a kid -- swimming, tennis, football, baseball, soccer -- basketball was his ultimate goal.  But imagine how he felt when he was cut from every basketball team he tried out for from 6th to 10th grade?  He could have given up so easily, just written off the sport, and spent his time relaxing and goofing off.  He didn't though -- he persisted and made the high school team in junior and senior year.  He went on to play in college and earned an undergraduate degree in business management and a master's degree in marketing and communication.  Clearly, Zeus has unusual focus, determination and resilience when faced with setbacks.  

As a parent, I wanted to understand, where did that persistence come from?  How had his parents and family instilled that motivation in him?

Keep Pushing

Zeus attributed a lot of his resilience to his mother.  "She would constantly push me to play sports, no matter what the sport was -- she just wanted me to stay busy.  During the off-season, I did a lot of extra-curricular stuff.  I had a lot of friends who got into trouble because they didn't play sports."  His mom signed him up for football when he didn't even know how to play yet, and she came to every game to support and cheer him on.  "I cannot remember a game that my parents didn't come to."

Press Your Child When Needed, If It Benefits Them

Zeus didn't need any pressure to participate in sports; he loved all the sports he played and tried his best with his parents' encouragement.  But other activities that maybe weren't a favorite, such as Christmas and holiday performances at church, were a harder sell.  His parents made it clear he was expected to participate and to do his best, and he's thankful now, because speaking in public and on stage is helpful now in his career.  "I would get so nervous, talking in front of people, but it paid off big time for me today."

Keep Kids Busy

TV just wasn't a thing in his home.  Family life was centered around school, sports and church; TV and electronics came far down the list.  Zeus didn't get his own cell phone until high school, and he encourages kids to put the phone down.  Don't hang on social media, waiting for likes; ignore the negativity and don't feed into the criticism.  Kids should earn time on their phones -- put in an hour of practice (whether it's basketball or piano) before they get time on a device.

Good Influences and Examples are Important

"You're going to be like the people you're with all day."  If your friends, and your siblings, are strong and motivated, you'll get stronger too. Be a good example for your kids -- do hard things, stay motivated, make good choices.

Competitiveness Among Siblings is a Good Thing

Zeus' parents encouraged him and his siblings to sign up for the same sports and to try to beat each other's records and grades.  Zeus is the youngest of four, and his coaches and teachers expected a lot from him at school and on the field because his older siblings worked hard.  He had a lot to live up to, and this made him work harder.

Short-Term Goals Will Lead to Long-Term Dreams

Zeus had a long term goal of becoming a professional athlete, so he focused on smaller goals to get there.  He put in the time -- lots of extra practice, running stadium steps to build endurance, and constant drills.  Similarly, he said his parents had a long term goal that their children would be successful, and they made day-to-day decisions, and many sacrifices, to make that happen.  His parents' determination and strength has paid off; not only is Zeus playing for the Globetrotters, but his sister is a professor at Texas A&M University.

It's OK to Be Nice

Zeus has always been known as the player who smiles and has a good time, the nice guy. And it's paid off for him -- he now literally gets paid to have a good time while he's playing basketball.  "It's OK to not be aggressive!  You don't have to have a killer instinct.  If you're a nice person, stay a nice person.  Don't let people change you. You don't have to be mean to make it."

Use Your Advantage for Good

When Zeus grew 5 inches during 10th grade (he ultimately reached 6' 8"), his mother told him to use his presence, his height, to make a good impact.  If your child has a natural charisma, look for ways to use that in a way that helps and benefits others.

Faith Has Helped Him Make Good Choices

The church has been a very strong influence in Zeus' family and life.  He attributes his ability to make good choices to the guidance and education he received at church about leadership, serving others, even financial management.  Kids, and especially teens, really benefit from quiet time and contemplation; he likes to share tips on meditation when he visits schools.

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