Darnell “Speedy” Artis frantically raced between rows of fold-out tables in search of a student volunteer.
At least a dozen small arms wiggled in the air.
“Speedy. The one with their hand raised,” quipped Julian “Zeus” McClurkin, Artis’ teammate on the Harlem Globetrotters, inside a packed gym at Pastorius-Richardson Elementary.
Ahead of a string of exhibition games, Artis and McClurkin recently traveled to East Germantown to emcee a short anti-bullying assembly for the school’s fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.
For Artis, it was also an unforgettable trip down memory lane. He attended Pastorius and idolized the Globetrotters when he was a kid. Every year the team came to town, his parents took him and his brother to a game.
“I remember how special that was for us as a family, and to be able to do it as a player now, it’s just surreal – something I can’t really put into words sometimes,” said Artis.
The 25-year-old is similarly speechless about making his Philadelphia debut with the team on Friday. The team is playing four games in three days – Friday through Sunday – including two at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the 76ers.
Artis started playing basketball when he was just a year old.
“He could barely walk, and we bought him a little Fisher-Price basketball court, and we have a picture of him slam dunking on the basketball court,” said Chanel Artis, Darnell’s mom.
He never looked back.
Darnell Artis said playing in East Germantown, a low-income neighborhood rarely covered by reporters unless there’s been a shooting, helped shape him into the tough competitor he is today.
Especially his time playing at Lonnie Young Recreation Center, just up the street from Pastorius.
“When you’re playing in the park, most of the time the older kids take over the basketball court. So, if you’re gonna play, you’re gonna have to play with them, and if you’re gonna play with them, around here nobody is gonna take it easy on you,” he said.
The neighborhood also pushed him to go to college and pursue his dreams of turning pro.
“When I was 11, everybody told me, ‘Nobody goes pro from around here.’ And when I was 13, they told me, ‘Nobody from around here goes to college.’ I let things like that fuel me – when people think you can’t do this because you’re short or because of where you’re from,” said Artis.
Despite being well under 6 feet, Artis started all four years at Gwynedd Mercy University, a Division III school in Montgomery County.
He tried out for the Globetrotters his senior year.
Allen Artis, Darnell’s dad, said he wasn’t surprised when his son made the team. The two spent countless hours training.
“Athletically, I always thought he could be a pro,” he said.
His son’s skills on the court certainly made him confident. But also, his unrelenting passion for the sport that started with that Fisher-Price hoop.
A passion Darnell Artis now uses to inspire others.
“I just want to prove — not really to me, not really to you, but to kids — that no matter what nobody tell you, do whatever you wanna do and be whatever you wanna be,” he said. “Go wherever you wanna go.”