Last Updated on August 19, 2004 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

The City of Highland’s most illustrious resident, J.C. Gipson, recently celebrated his 72nd birthday at the Crescent City Creole Restaurant in Montclair (one of his favorite places to dine out), accompanied…

… by Nori LeFay-Harrison, whom he playfully refers to as “The Book Lady,” because she’s writing his biography, and Joyce Travis-Greathouse (Nori’s personal assistant, as well as J.C.’s press agent). In Europe, Joyce worked as a fashion model.

After a delectable lunch of crabcakes, chicken, and shrimp, the restaurant staff brought out a birthday cake lit with candles for the former Harlem Globetrotter to make a wish and blowout. In unison, the restaurant staff gathered around the table and sang a jazzy birthday song for J.C.’s special day, and afterwards everyone clapped, including many of the customers dining at nearby tables.

Gipson, also known as “The Big Gip,” had a glorious basketball career for twenty seasons, spanning from 1952 to 1972. The Los Angeles native personified the image of a Globetrotter with strong, superb playing ability and an outstanding flair for showmanship. He was loved by children of all ages, and was a remarkable Global Ambassador. He established a “World Series of Basketball” record by tallying 33 points against the 1953 College All-Americans in Chicago, Illinois.

Before there was Wilt Chamberlain (J.C. Gipson’s roommate), J.C. was the tallest basketball player the Globetrotters team had, towering over other men at six foot, eight inches tall, and weighing as much as 240 pounds. When Chamberlain came aboard (standing a whole head taller than J.C.), the two of them made formidable opponents on the basketball court.

J.C. is still a valuable member of the Globetrotters organization, because of his good nature, his great showmanship and his role as a friendly giant. Jerry Saperstein (the son of Abe Saperstein, the original owner of the Harlem Globetrotters) is being considered for Gipson’s biography, with a projected completion date of Spring 2005. Included in his biography are the experiences of his family, friends, and former teammates such as Charles Harrison, John Kline, Hubert Ausbie, Robert Hall, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon and his best friend, “the Ray Charles,” who recently died.

In the 1950s, Gipson’s mother owned and operated the “Gipson Cafe” in Los Angeles. J.C. graduated from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, giving up the opportunity to go to college he joined the unique playing-style of the Globetrotters team. He has played and entertained crowds of fans in 87 countries around the world.

Gipson, and his fellow teammates, Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Geese Ausbie, Pablo Robinson and Bobby Joe Mason, who were featured in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, feel that it was fun to be pictured on television; but, they also realize that their collective fame is really based on the actual games they played, on the efforts of other great teammates, and on the talented Harlem Globetrotters organization behind them.

Since the start of the Harlem Globetrotters Professional Basketball Team in 1927, there have been 600 extraordinary players, but only 70 of them have been fortunate enough to make it into the Hall of Fame, and 20 of them are still living legends. Gipson is one of them. Currently, Gipson spends his days as a guest speaker, visiting local schools, encouraging our youth to abstain from self-destructive behavior. And, he plans to enroll at San Bernardino Valley College next year, making him the most famous student the school has ever had.