WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - When the Harlem Globetrotters visit Wilmington later this month, a familiar face to fans of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels will be on the court.
Orlando “El Gato” Melendez appeared in Final Fours in 1998 and 2000 with UNC Chapel Hill. After college, he played with the Puerto Rican national team and in Europe; then, he became a Globetrotters star, visiting more than 70 countries with the team.
“For me it’s been an amazing ride,” he said.
Fans can see Melendez at the Harlem Globetrotters game at Trask Coliseum in Wilmington on Friday, March 22 at 7 p.m. The game is part of the team’s Fan Powered World Tour. This is the 93rd consecutive season the team has toured the world.
“I always tell the kids, fall in love with something that you will be happy on Monday to go back to. And for me, basketball was that,” he said. “Basketball opened the door for me to explore, go to college, learn something, learn different cultures, try different foods. It’s just been the experience of a lifetime.”
Melendez is the first and only Puerto Rican-born player to ever play for the Harlem Globetrotters. His nickname, '"El Gato," came from an experience he had heading to the basketball courts one day when he was in his early teens in Puerto Rico. He cut through a sugarcane field, dropping some ham on the way and several cats followed him. “El Gato” is Spanish for “The Cat.” The nickname stuck.
For tickets to the Wilmington event, click here.