For five seasons, Orlando “El Gato” Melendez has hooped it up around the world for the iconic Harlem Globetrotters (73 countries and counting). The 6’8” forward calls Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico home, but considers the South his home away from home, having moved to Marion, NC to play basketball when he was just 16-years-old.
Why does Melendez love the South so much? “It’s the love. The Southern charm. The way people treat you,” he says. “They’re always very giving and the food is awesome. All the traditions, fun and family has stuck with me to pass onto my daughters.”
During high school in North Carolina, Melendez, 38, was scouted and recruited to play as a Tar Heel for UNC Chapel Hill. After a short career playing professionally oversees, Melendez’s dream of being a Harlem Globetrotter came true. And as the first and only Puerto Rican-born player to ever play for the team, he is not only grateful for the opportunity, but the opportunities that his success will pave for future Hispanic players.
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“As a Latino, I can make a difference in the lives of others and be an inspiration, showing kids that you can really make your dreams come true,” he said via a press release.
You can catch Melendez – and his signature double basketball spinning – when the Globetrotters take on their rivals, the infamous Washington Generals.
“You don’t have to be a basketball fan, or a sports fan at all, to enjoy the Harlem Globetrotters,” Melendez said. “You’re going to see magic with the basketball, dunks and a lot of amazing things. But the experience and the fun is what you’re always going to take with you forever.”