By 10News/WBIR in Knoxville, Tenn.
GRAINGER COUNTY, TN - Sometimes you know the ending of a story before it even begins. They're almost "cut-and-dry" -- you've seen them as viewers and we've covered them as journalists.
It's not surprising one might think the following story would fall into that category. However, before it aired we asked a couple of questions. That's when the story and the people involved in it reminded us that things are not always as they seem.
The first part of the story begins in September at Bean Station Middle School in Grainger County. A more-than-six-foot-tall motivational speaker named Eugene "Ice Man" Raines captured the attention both boys and girls through encouragement and words of praise. He also explained to the kids how he made his dreams come true. "I had a dream. I wanted to play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters," Raines explained. "You know what I did? I made it up in my mind that I can be anything I want to be.
Raines called the kids his "new best friends", gave out his card, and encouraged the students to call him on his cell phone. He also told them to be kind to each other and stay away from drugs, which seemed to impress some of the kids. "I think it was pretty cool -- he was pretty cool," said Bean Station Middle School student Kobe Evans. "He always stayed away from drugs and he never did anything bad like that so that's cool."
The Grainger County Sheriff's Department brought Raines to every school in the county. For that, he received a $2,500 appearance fee. Sheriff Scott Layel said his department paid for half and the school system covered the rest. He hoped Raines' words and larger-than-life persona would motivate students to stay on the right track. "He's a Globetrotter," Layel explained. "They've seen 'Scooby-Doo' and the Globetrotter cartoons. You mention 'Globetrotters' and it automatically relates to 'Scooby-Doo' and it gets their attention."
Layel also wanted to surprise the students and give them someone to look up to. "As far as our drug problem goes, we've got to get to our youth. Anytime you meet somebody that's well-known... then it helps influence the kids. In this case, it's a popular Globetrotter with a great message."
The sheriff said his officers first met Raines during a basketball clinic at an Explorers conference in Savannah, Georgia where Raines lives. The Explorers program is similar to a deputy cadet program. Layel said their first meeting led to Raines speaking in Grainger County.
After covering Raines' speech in Grainger County, we watched the video took notes to write the story. But we still needed to add a few basic facts, including how many years Raines played for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Online newspaper and television articles show Raines has spoken at schools and clubs in states across the South. Each time he's associated with the Globetrotter name. However, a check of the Harlem Globetrotters' website shows it doesn't include a single reference to Eugene "Ice Man" Raines. His name isn't on any rosters, past or present. At the time, we thought it was just a mistake, so we contacted a media spokesperson for the Harlem Globetrotters.
After that conversation raised a red flag, we called Eugene Raines.
10News Producer: "OK, you guys are the Original Harlem Globetrotters, correct?"
Raines: "Yes Ma'am."
We know for a fact that is not true. Harlem Globetrotters Vice-President of Communications Brett Meister told 10News "[Eugene Raines is] absolutely not affiliated with Harlem Globetrotters currently or in the past. He never played for us. He never worked for us."
Knowing that, we pressed Raines for more information.
10News Producer: "And so, if we're going to go on TV, how many years can I say you played for the Harlem Globetrotters?"
Raines: "Two years."
10News Producer: "Two years. What years were those?"
Raines: "The previous two years."
10News Producer: "2010 and 2011?"
Raines: "Yes Ma'am."
However, court records from Georgia show Raines served time behind bars in 2011. One arrest was for a DUI, the other for driving on a suspended license and giving officers a fake name. All together, his criminal history dates back to the 1990s, including charges of cocaine possession.
With those court records, Raines' words, and a stern statement from the Harlem Globetrotters, we felt we no longer had a "cut-and-dry" story.
For the truth, 10News went to Savannah, Georgia to talk to Raines again -- this time face-to-face.
From his living room in Savannah, Eugene Raines issued an apology for what he called "confusion."
"I think sometimes I should have put more emphasis on the fact that I myself have never played with the Harlem Globetrotters," Raines told 10News. "I want to get this whole thing behind us and I apologize to you people if I was misleading in any way. I attempted not to be."
Despite previous conversations, Raines admitted he is not a Harlem Globetrotter and that he has never worn the uniform. Instead, Raines says he's modeling his motivational speaking career after a retired Harlem Globetrotter who also happens to live in Savannah. Raines told 10News that Larry "Gator" Rivers does great work in Savannah and that he "went trailing behind [Rivers]" because his heart is "tied to the same thing."
10News found Rivers across town. He said he had "no idea" what Raines did in East Tennessee. "What he did there in Grainger [County] -- we had no knowledge of it," Rivers confirmed. "I don't think it was right for him to use my name or the Harlem Legends name with [that] presentation. We're a non-profit and if you go there as a business, that's not fair."
Rivers played with the Harlem Globetrotters for more than a decade in the 1970s and '80s. Now retired from the team, he's dedicated his life to working with several charities including the "Harlem Legends," which consists of former Globetrotters, professional athletes and past Olympians.
Rivers told 10News he met Raines at a non-profit function where Raines spoke about his time in prison. As a favor, Rivers invited him to suit-up in a couple of games with him and his friends. However, Rivers stresses what Raines told people in East Tennessee is not true. "They wouldn't have paid him [$2,500] if they had not thought he was a Harlem Globetrotter. That's the part I was very upset with him about. Knowing the condition of those people, how could you take that kind of money from that community?"
Back in East Tennessee, the Grainger County Sheriff's Department reinforced the fact that they checked up on Raines and called the references he gave them. "We checked his references as far as the other schools go," explained Sheriff Scott Layel. "We went online and we saw him in uniform and we firmly believed he was a Harlem Globetrotter."
Grainger County school resource officer Tim Wyckoff also re-questioned Raines after hearing the facts 10News uncovered. "I actually did call him," said Wyckoff. "He assured me that everything was a mix-up and that he did play with the Harlem Globetrotters."
Layel also said his department knew about Raines' criminal history and praised the presentation the ex-con gave students. The sheriff maintained the $2,500 appearance fee was money well spent. "Our primary objective was to have an anti-drug motivational speaker. He fulfilled that objective to a tee," said Layel. "As far as being a Harlem Globetrotter Legend, I think there could have been a little more truthfulness on his part."
During 10News' interview with Raines, he told us this kind of incident wouldn't happen again. But since that time, Raines contacted a 10News staff member and once again identified himself as a Harlem Globetrotter.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Scott Layel says his department has reached out to Larry "Gator" Rivers. They're planning to bring him, along with the real Harlem Legends, to Grainger County for a basketball game benefiting the county's "Shop With A Cop" program. We'll keep you posted on that in the coming weeks.
By WBIR.com in Knoxville, Tenn.