In Fred "Curly" Neal's playbook, LeBron James doesn't measure up yet to basketball legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Michael Jordan. But the retired Harlem Globetrotter wouldn't mind if the 23-year-old Cavs phenom signed with his beloved squad, which tangles with its nemesis, the Washington Generals, this afternoon at the Q on its Spinning the Globe World Tour. "You gotta win some championships to be a great, great player," says Neal, whose shaved scalp made him an instant attraction on the court between 1963 and 1985. "But LeBron can jump, shoot, rebound, pass the ball, a little bit of everything. He could be a fabulous Globetrotter with his talent and all-around skills."
Just ask "Hot Shot" Branch. For six seasons, the 6-foot-4 Houston native has played guard for the team - the same position the 67-year-old Neal played in more than 6,000 games back in the day. And he's trying to match his idol's rep as one of the most revered dribblers - a guy who could hit shots from anywhere on the floor. "When you think of the Globetrotters, that's the first name you come up with: Curly and Meadowlark Lemon," says the 35-year-old Branch. "They owned the one-two punch at that time. I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for these guys. I listen to their stories of what they had to go through to knock the wall down and lay the foundation. Now we're here to keep that legacy going."
To accomplish the mission, Branch is joined by teammates like "Special K" Daley, "Hi-Lite" Bruton and "El Gato" Melendez, who's the first Puerto Rican native to suit up as a Globetrotter in the team's 83 seasons. "Once you get onto the team, you see it's not all about basketball," says Branch. "It's about giving a positive image to the community wherever you go. And just because of who we are and what we do, it's all about warm welcomes, smiles and hugs."
Neal felt the love firsthand in February, when he became the fifth Globetrotter in history to see his number (22) retired, as it was lifted to the rafters during a ceremony at New York's Madison Square Garden. Still, he keeps active as the squad's "traveling ambassador," promoting a team that's lost only 345 of the more than 22,000 games it's played since 1926. "I've been doing it almost 35 years," says Neal. "I believe in giving back, sharing and seeing the younger guys - a new generation - keep the Globetrotters going another 83 years." Tip-off is at 1 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena (100 Gateway Plaza). Tickets: $17-$141. Call 800.745.3000 or visit theqarena.com. - Cris Glaser
LULULEMON ATHLETICA YOGA CLASS
Instructor Jessica Klich will show you how to cleanse your body of toxins with meditation, outstretched poses and deep-breathing exercises at today's Lululemon Athletica Yoga Class. But the workout is a far cry from the studio's January 8 workshop on "exotic fitness" or - in layman's language - pole-dancing. "It's going to be off the hook," says Klich. "However, we don't want to scare people into thinking that Lululemon is a bunch of sluts and all we do is crazy stuff. But this is gonna be so much fun and quite hysterical."
The Vancouver-based fitness and sportswear company opened its Beachwood center in October by offering free yoga classes every Saturday morning. Next month, it'll branch out with sessions on Pilates (January 3), disco-dancing (January 10), cardio kickboxing (January 17), muscle-building (January 24) and hip-hop (January 31). The objective is to "build a community out of positive affirmation." "You face yourself mentally and physically," says Klich. "It's a humbling yet strenuous practice. And you have nobody but yourself who's challenging you. So all of your emotional shit - good and bad - is going to come up. It's all about peace of mind and overall health." Class starts at 10 a.m. at Lululemon Athletica (27040 Cedar Rd. in Beachwood). Admission: free. Call 216.378.1726 or visit lululemon.com. - Glaser
TOUCH PIG ROAST
Pig roasts usually drum up visions of tropical nights at Hawaiian luaus. So Robert Ivanov thought he'd "summer-ize" his Touch Supper Club in Ohio City - a perfect backdrop for the weekly swine soirées. "Ours may not be where one would expect a theme like this," he says. "But I remember my dad and I having these types of roasts when I was growing up. It was a big Eastern European family affair. So I figured, why not?"
So he approached Touch's chef, Jeff Fisher, a couple years ago to iron out the details. These days, each roast features a 25-pound suckling pig that's been rotating on a spit for six hours. Side dishes range from redskin potatoes to cabbage with sautéed onions. Leftover meat is used in the club's daily Cuban sandwich deals. "There's more than enough to go around," says Ivanov. "Our servings aren't gamey, so people don't need to worry." Belgian-beer specials served in ginormous mugs also help fill up the club every Tuesday night. "What's been really surprising to me is how many females come into the restaurant to enjoy the popularity of the pig roast," says Ivanov. "There's no dainty air about it. There are more pork lovers out there than you realize." Pig out from 4 to 10 p.m. at Touch Supper Club (2710 Lorain Ave.). Tickets: $19. Call 216.631.5200 or visit touchohiocity.com. - Chad Felton
PARTY OF THE YEAR
John Teel learned a lesson about throwing a club-thumping New Year's Eve party last year. That's why he's putting at least 10 bartenders to work at tonight's Party of the Year at Mulberry's in the Flats. "If you're understaffed, then everything turns into a bottleneck," says Teel, who also runs the recreational-sports league Cleveland Plays. "When people start ordering multiple drinks, it brings everything down. And before you know it, everybody's having a bad experience."
With a full staff in place, the club will also serve heavy hors d'oeuvres while the Pop Rocks cover band and DJ Archie swap stage time. And like last year - Teel's first in the bar business - more than 200 clubhoppers will make a midnight champagne toast. "People were literally thanking me when they left," he recalls. "I really don't think you can find too much of a better deal in town." Say your goodbyes to 2008 at 8 p.m. at Mulberry's (2316 Mulberry Ave. on the West Bank of the Flats). Tickets: $60. Call 216.443.4843 or visit clevelandplays.com. - Glaser
NEW YEAR'S EVE MASQUERADE
The party gurus at Fat Fish Blue plan to doll up the club in black, white and silver tonight for their first-ever New Year's Eve Masquerade. Patrons will even score black masks to wear when the clock strikes midnight. "We decided to step it up a bit and give people something more elegant to do this year," says Connie Ross, the club's bar manager. "We wanted to do a Phantom of the Opera kinda deal."
The blowout starts with a cocktail hour, accented by an appetizer buffet of crab cakes, shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, sweet-potato bisque, and chicken and sausage jambalaya. Revelers then sit down for chef J.R. Grady's specialties of pan-seared duck breast, grilled redfish, beef-tenderloin medallions and vegetarian-friendly wild-mushroom ravioli. The dinner is capped off with a dessert tray of chocolate-covered strawberries to complement the flutes of champagne that everyone will hoist at midnight, when images of Times Square's ball drop flash on a big-screen TV. The ticket price also includes valet service. "We understand that people are pinching pennies, with the economy the way it is," says Ross. "But for the cost, you're going to get some awesome food and entertainment." The masquerade starts at 8:30 p.m. at Fat Fish Blue (21 Prospect Ave.). Tickets: $54.99. Call 216.875.6000 or visit fatfishblue.com. - Glaser
NOON YEAR'S EVE
Many New Year's Eve parties resemble a zoo of drunks. So why not make the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo the first stop on your end-of-the-year party hop? At Noon Year's Eve, the animal world marks the passage into 2009 with a three-hour midday bash, complete with a noontime ball drop. It's a chance for kids to celebrate the year's end with snacks, crafts and Radio Disney shows, and still make it to bed on time. Jump-start the year from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (3900 Wildlife Way). Admission: $4-$6. Call 216.661.6400 or visit clemetzoo.com. - Charles Cassady Jr.