Carroll County Times

Standing tall: Globetrotters' shortest player ever overcomes odds to become professional hoopster

Jonte Hall's nickname is Too Tall.

It's misleading, a playful jab at the truth: He has always been too short.

Hall is 5 feet 2 inches tall, which seems far too slight for his chosen occupation as a professional basketball player.

Hall makes it work. He is, after all, a Harlem Globetrotter.

Hall, a Baltimore native, is the shortest Globetrotter in the team's 87-year history. He's a gifted dribbler, a fantastic shooter and a featured performer for the world's most famous traveling basketball team.

The Globetrotters will play at 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 29 at Baltimore's First Mariner Arena, marking a homecoming for Hall, who is in his rookie season with the club.

With the Globetrotters, Hall's lack of size makes him a novelty. A YouTube video of his dribbling skills has generated more than 500,000 views.

He is touring the world playing the sport he's always loved. He's played in famous arenas all over the country, including Madison Square Garden, the history-rich New York venue players as short as Too Tall rarely get to compete in.

"It's been a struggle to get where I'm at," Hall said. "I'm blessed."

Prior to joining the Globetrotters, Hall worked as a janitor in overnight shifts at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. His competitive basketball playing days seemed over.

Even so, he still played and practiced on the side, just like always.

While growing up in West Baltimore, there was no hoop nearby. So Hall cut holes in milk cartons, nailed them to a tree and practiced shooting for hours. His parents got him involved in recreational basketball, where he played alongside New York Knicks standout Carmelo Anthony, who is 18 inches taller than Hall.

Anthony always seemed destined for the NBA. And Hall always seemed destined for the bench. No matter how great a shooter he was, the defender was always taller.

Despite his size disadvantage, he played at Carver Vocational-Technical High School and The Community College of Baltimore County, where he was a reserve.

Professional basketball seemed like a pipe dream. Even fellow Baltimore native Muggsy Bogues, one of the shortest professional players ever, was an inch taller than Hall.

When Hall's work shifts would end, he'd try to squeeze in a practice. He got in approximately two hours of shooting hoops per day with the hope of somehow parlaying his skills into a gig somewhere.

"I was going to give basketball one more shot, man," he said. "A lot of doors had been shut in my face. I heard you're too small, you're too this, you're too that."

Yet Hall believed in himself, enough to attend a tryout for the Washington Generals. It seemed like a natural fit. Hall joined a team of underdogs, a team never expected to actually win.

The Generals are the regular opponents for the Harlem Globetrotters. They always lose. The Generals play a serious game while the Globetrotters show off. The last time the Generals beat the Globetrotters was in 1971.

Washington Generals players rarely wind up becoming Globetrotters. Yet Hall did just that, serving as such a standout that he earned a red, white and blue Harlem Globetrotters jersey.

He is the only Globetrotter of the 28 players on the roster to previously suit up for the Washington Generals, team spokesman Eric Nemeth said. He did not have exact numbers for how many Generals became Globetrotters in the team's 87-year history.

"During my first fulltime year with the Generals, I wanted to pursue becoming a Globetrotter," Hall said. "I saw how kids were just loving those guys and putting smiles on families faces."

Each Globetrotter has a unique set of jaw-dropping skills, something that makes them unique. For Hall, all the extra work he put in growing up to earn playing time is paying off.

Plus, his height is no longer an issue. Now, he's a novelty, a player who does not have to crouch to high-five or sign autographs for the many young fans who come and see the Globetrotters play.

For the first time in his life, he's simply tall enough.

"The kids identify with me," he said. "A lot of kids aren't blessed to be 6-foot-2. They see a guy like me, 5-foot-2, playing basketball. I give them hope. They believe they can be anything they put their minds to."