5 Questions is a series by Steve Duffy –
El Gato Melendez is the first Puerto Rican-born basketball player ever to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. He was raised in the town of Juana Diaz, where he would make a 2-mile jog just to play basketball. The 6’8” forward received his nickname because while on his way to the courts one day, he followed some stray cats that he saw run into a sugarcane field. Next thing he knew, the cats had taken him right to the courts.
SD: How did you become a Harlem Globetrotter?
EM: I was finishing a contract as a pro in Puerto Rico when I was asked by Sam Worthen to try out for the Globetrotters. It was one of the best experiences and I am really glad that I took Sam’s suggestion.
SD: What does it mean to you to be the first and only Puerto Rican-born player to ever play for the team?
EM: It is a proud honor for me and one that I don’t take lightly. I am very happy to be the first. It is a real honor that I am representing the entire Latin community and I want to be a role model for the kids. I want to show them that if you work hard, you can achieve your dreams. I am very happy to be the first.
SD: What are your token moves on the court or your role in the Globetrotters comedic routine?
EM: I do a lot of dunks. I really work the crowd. I want them to get on their feet and cheer and have a great time. Seeing the reaction the kids have when they watch us play is priceless. The Globetrotters are all about family and seeing families have fun together is truly awesome.
SD: What is your pre-game routine?
EM: I don’t do anything too crazy. I stick to my regular basketball warm-ups. The other guys eat cookies [he laughs]. I listen to music of all kinds to get me pumped up. I love all kinds of music! I love Spanish, hip-hop, 80’s or rock music, but what I listen to really depends on my mood.
SD: What is the greatest thing about being a Globetrotter?
EM: Besides the travel and bringing smiles to the crowds face, I love the community outreach we do, whether it’s visiting a school or a pediatric unit in a hospital. There is so much joy I get to see when kids see the Globetrotters. That makes it all worthwhile.