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Former Globetrotter loves life, job in Folsom working with kids

By: Matt Long
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Sterling Forbes stands in the middle of the gym floor spinning a ball on his finger and immediately is surrounded by kids. Forbes, who went by the nickname of Smooth during his nine years playing with the Harlem Globetrotters, has still got it. He changes the ball from his right index finger to his left and back to his right without a bobble. He twists and turns his arm all around, and the ball still rests on his finger, spinning just as fast as it was when he started. Forbes starts doing other ball-handling tricks such as body rolls, wrist rolls and other stunts like catching the ball on his neck, all the while the kids watch in amazement, with big, broad smiles. Those smiles are the best part of Forbes' job, as a Recreation Coordinator for the city of Folsom and basketball director at the Folsom Sports Complex. With his years as a Globetrotter player and another stint as a Good Will Ambassador for the organization following his playing days, Forbes, 44, has spent a lot of time putting smiles on people's faces. You go to a foreign country and you're around people that don't speak your language and you wonder why you're there, Forbes said. Then the Globetrotters come out and start the show with their Magic Circle and everyone is smiling. Smiling is the universal language. They watch the 90-minute show and are smiling and laughing all the way through. Born and raised in Los Angeles, the 6-foot-7-inch Forbes graduated from University High in 1981 and then Texas State in 1986, playing basketball in both high school and college. He then played in the Continental Basketball Association, as well as playing in Mexico and Argentina before getting an opportunity with the Globetrotters. In the summer of '88, I was playing in the summer pro league at Loyola Marymount University, hoping to play in the CBA or overseas or get a NBA tryout, and the Globetrotters were having a tryout in LA, Forbes said. Thirty-five players were invited to try out for three spots and I was one of them that made it. Forbes wasn't the first member of his family to make the team. His dad, Sterling, previously a draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, also played with the Globetrotters in the early 60s. Not only was there fierce competition to make the Globetrotters, but like in all team sports, there's a battle for playing time. At first Forbes didn't play that much, maybe a quarter and a half per game. He was known as a dunker and then after lots a practice, a ball-handler. The more you can do, the more valuable you are to the team, Forbes said. Forbes practiced for five years before he was good enough to be apart of the Magic Circle. I paid my dues, Forbes said of his finally perfecting his 15- to 20-second ball handling routine. It's what starts the show and gets the people going and the fans are all clapping to Sweet Georgia Brown. You've got five, six, seven guys in the circle and when the spotlight's on you, you don't want to mess up so you've got to be perfect. As a player and later as a Good Will Ambassador with the Globetrotters just last year, Forbes visited many kids' hospitals to bring some cheer to kids less fortunate than most. From the start he understood the honor and prestige that goes along with being someone's hero. I'm at a hospital spinning the ball on my finger and it just lights up their faces, Forbes said. I enjoyed doing that part of being a Globetrotter. I felt obligated to do it because those kids look up to you. I remember when I was 12 or so I had the opportunity to meet one of my favorite players, Julius Erving, and he took the time to give me an autograph, and I've never forgotten that. It's stuck with me forever. It's just something nice to do for the kids. Last year Forbes visited Italy, Spain, Japan and India as an ambassador with the Globetrotters. Through the years he's been to 61 countries through his relationship with the team. A lot of people ask me, would I have rather played in the NBA, Forbes said. I probably would have made more money, but I got to see the world with the Globetrotters. At the same time I got to put smiles on peoples' faces. For that 90 minutes when we were playing, the fans forgot about all their worries and problems and smiled and that's another thing I really enjoyed about being a Globetrotter. After his playing days ended in 1996, Forbes became involved on putting on camps and clinics for kids and wished to have his own facility where he could host such events. Los Angeles proved to be too expensive to have such a facility, so he headed north. He was one of the co-founders of Basketball Town in Rancho Cordova in 2001and after the business was sold to another group two years later, Forbes met with Folsom resident Jim Carlsen, who was building the Folsom Sports Complex. Already living in Folsom for since 2001, Forbes leaped at the chance to work there and has been running camps and clinics, among other things, since. Folsom's a great place to raise my family, said Forbes, who lives in Folsom with his wife Sasha, and kids Marcus, 13, Max, 10, Mason, 9 and McKenzie, 8. The schools are great, the community is involved, the councilmen and women care about the city and there's so much you can do here. Carlsen, who has since sold the complex to the city, has high praise for Forbes. Sterling is so good with people and one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet, Carlsen said. He's extremely gifted and talented in working with kids. The community has grown to love Forbes, as well. Grant Appleberry, a fourth grader at Carl Sundahl Elementary, was one of 80 youth attending Forbes' spring break basketball camp last week. Sterling's fun and obviously a good basketball player, Appleberry said. He's also good at teaching. David Ambrose, a 13-year-old El Dorado Hills resident who attends Rolling Hills Middle School, plays on Forbes' AAU team, the Folsom Force. He's helped me become a better basketball player in so many ways I can't explain it, Ambrose said. He definitely knows what he's doing an he's very sociable. Folsom's Andrew Gai, an 11-year-old fifth grader at Carl Sundahl, said Forbes has taught him a lot of dribbling skills and helped him improve his form on his jump shot. Megan Rehard, a nine-year-old third grader at Phoenix Elementary School in Folsom, agreed that Forbes has helped her become a better player. For Kristina Cortopassi, an eight-year-old second grader at Carl Sundahl, she likes the Globetrotter in Forbes as well. He showed me how to spin the ball on my finger, Cortopassi said. Forbes said he plans to be in Folsom for a long time. I'm here for the long haul, Forbes said, flashing a smile that he's given to many others. I love Folsom.