Merriweather spreading joy, seeing the world as a Harlem Globetrotter
By Dave Ongie, News Editor
There was some apprehension at first when young Ava Blevins walked into the lobby of Niswonger Children’s Hospital with her mother Amber.
Waiting on the other side of the room were two hulking basketball players clad in the iconic red, white and blue warm-up suits made famous by generations of Harlem Globetrotters. As Ava edged ever closer, A.J. “Money” Merriweather and his teammate “El Gato” Melendez turned on their million-watt smiles, and the youngster’s eyes lit right up.
For the next few minutes, the two men did their best to make a lasting memory, showing off their sleight-of-hand basketball tricks and helping Amber spin a basketball on the tip of her finger. But it was Merriweather, a former standout at ETSU, who finally broke through with his dance moves, which left Ava giggling uncontrollably.
During a break in the action, a familiar question was posed to Merriweather. What is life like for a Harlem Globetrotter?
“How long do I have?” Merriweather replied with a laugh.
When you think of the Globetrotters, the first thing that comes to mind is obviously basketball, but the impact the Globetrotters have on a daily basis goes well beyond a simple game. In addition to the visit at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, Merriweather also stopped at South Side Elementary to lend his voice to an anti-bullying program and talked with local media outlets during last week’s promotional tour, which came in advance of his team’s March 26 visit to Freedom Hall.
“It’s a blessing, first of all,” Merriweather said. “It’s a blessing to be able to travel, meet different people and impact lives the way we do. It’s an amazing job.”
Returning to Johnson City was special for Merriweather, who wrapped up his ETSU career with a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2017. Originally recruited by Murry Bartow, Merriweather stuck around when Steve Forbes was hired and helped the Bucs build a firm foundation that has led to 100 victories over a four-year span.
Merriweather was a part of roughly half of those wins during Forbes’ first two seasons, and he said the trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 turned out to be a life-changing event for him.
“I love coach Forbes,” Merriweather said. “I love coach Bartow, too, I always stay in touch with him. But I love coach Forbes because he gave me an opportunity. Without him coming here and turning the program around and giving us a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, who knows? I might not be here today.”
ETSU’s open practice prior to its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Florida in Orlando back in March of 2017 was a real turning point in Merriweather’s life. Forbes closed out the Bucs’ practice with a slam-dunk contest, and Merriweather responded by bringing down the house with a thunderous dunk.
A video of that dunk quickly went viral on social media. That led to an invite to the NCAA dunk contest, where Merriweather caught the eye of the Globetrotters. He was selected to join the team later in the year, and has been traveling the world ever since.
Tuesday’s game in Johnson City was certainly a homecoming for Merriweather, a welcomed evening of nostalgia amidst the blur of a world tour.
“I’ve been saying all day, this is my second home,” said Merriweather, who hails from Jackson, Tennessee. “Just to see kids and also adults smile and have fun, feel relaxed at the game – we get to bring back a lot of childhood memories.”