RICHLAND — Rocket Rivers is livin' the dream, baby.
That would be the basketball dream, an ambition he said he has had since he was born.
Rivers, who oozes with magnetism and verve, wasn't named "Rocket" at birth, but it's what he's all about these days as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Rivers, 27, has been in town this week visiting schools and telling kids to live their own dreams, as well as promoting the Globetrotters' upcoming basketball exhibition Feb. 20 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
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At 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds, Rivers is considered one of the little guys on the internationally famous basketball team known for giant-sized athletes pushing the 7-foot level.
Though Rivers said he was born to play basketball, it took a little longer to achieve his dream of playing and gain his basketball savvy.
He was 5-foot-9 when he dunked a basketball the first time as a 14-year-old growing up in Beaufort, N.C.
He stood 5-foot-9 for most of high school, but shot up to 6-foot-1 the summer he turned 18.
"I'd just started college when that all happened," he said. "I didn't even hurt from that rapid growth. I guess my body just wanted to catch up with the big feet and long arms I always had."
He gained another inch the following year, and though he played basketball all through college, he kept his focus on his education rather than the NBA. And while he was making three-pointers on the court, he also made the dean's list five times.
He graduated with a business degree from Francis Marion University in South Carolina in 2006 and soon joined the Globetrotters.
"The best part of being a Harlem Globetrotter is that it's more than basketball," Rivers said. "I can make dreams a tangible thing for kids because that's what this team brings to the world besides great basketball.
"And you can stay with the team for as long as you can keep reinventing yourself."
He was introduced to basketball as a toddler because sports always was a big thing in his family, he said. He has five sisters and three brothers, and both of his parents were athletes in school.
"My dad was a standout ball player in high school, and he instilled his love of the game in me and one of my brothers," Rivers said.
Though Rivers is not married, he doesn't consider himself single either. He has a longtime girlfriend and hopes get married someday.
There's nothing shy about him, whether it's at the Globetrotter games, talking with kids in towns across the world or showing off by spinning a red, white and blue basketball on the end of his finger for two minutes.
But when it comes to talking about any plans he has to pop the marriage question to his longtime girlfriend, he gets a little bashful.
"I'd really rather just keep that between her and me," he said with smile.
Besides, he added, "I'm still livin' the dream, baby."
-- Dori O'Neal: 509-582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org