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Detroit foster kid stars with Globetrotters

Will Bullard uses his 41-inch vertical jump to dunk over the referee. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS

Will Bullard uses his 41-inch vertical jump to dunk over the referee.

By Bill Hoover, Jr.
Special to the Michigan Citizen

In the history of the Detroit Public Schools, 94 of its alumni have made an NBA, original ABA, or Harlem Globetrotter roster; but only one, Detroit Southeastern graduate and current Trotter Will “Bull” Bullard, has reached this height after a childhood in Detroit’s foster care system.

Today, the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Bullard is in his fifth season with the Globetrotters. He is a fan-favorite, thanks to his 41-inch vertical jump, spectacular dunks and world-class flips. He is also a legend on YouTube for his dunking videos and his performance in the obstacle course on the television show “American Ninja Warrior.”

It was a viral Internet video that earned him a spot in the 2008 College Slam Dunk contest on ESPN, which resulted in a call from the Globetrotters after the world watched Bullard propel his chiseled frame over three standing players, one of whom was 6 feet 9 inches tall. (This also led to an invitation to the New York Jets’ rookie camp, despite his never having played football.)

Even more spectacular than that dunk are the life-hurdles Bullard cleared on his way to that contest.

Bullard was born in Detroit, the fourth of six children, to a 25-year-old, single mother with a heavy heroin addiction. Her drug addiction resulted in his removal from his mother as an infant and again during elementary school. In all, Bullard lived with five different foster families and attended nine different schools before graduating from high school.

Two of his foster families stole all of the monthly allowance money the government provides foster kids, one family kept him locked in a room all but for a couple hours a week and one family allowed a drunk relative to beat him.

Finally, Bullard was blessed with a placement with a great foster mother named Renee Cabean.  Cabean encouraged him to be involved with basketball and truly provided the first quality nurturing of his life.

After spending his freshman year at Detroit Northwestern, he received the bittersweet news that he could return home to his mother.  He wanted to remain with the kind and stable Cabean; but at her insistence, Bullard returned to his mom.

Life with his mom resulted in even more moves than when he ricocheted around the foster system. Outdoor courts became his home. While at Detroit Central, he lived at the Derrick Coleman Court behind Hutchins School. After moving to the Detroit Southeastern neighborhood, he spent all of his free time on the courts at Krolik School, Pingree Park, Rosa Parks School and the indoor court at the Mack Avenue Salvation Army.

Ineligible during his junior season, Bullard made the varsity his senior season (2002-03), but rarely played on a team that featured eight future college athletes, including 6-foot-11 eventual Harlem Globetrotter Walter Waters and current pro hooper Brandon Jenkins.

Ironically, it was the playgrounds that got Bullard into college after he was spotted on the Rosa Parks courts by Dennis Foster, a Marygrove College player.  At Marygrove, assistant coach Jud Kinne became a father figure to Bullard, who never met his biological father until his second season with the Trotters when his dad went AWOL from a halfway house to attend a Trotters’ game.

Bullard enrolled too late for the 2003-04 season; but during the 2004-05 season, he earned second team All-American honors, received a scholarship from Richland Junior College in Dallas, Texas, and received four Division I offers before playing a single-game for the Thunderducks.

Bullard was ineligible to begin his sophomore season at Richland but when he regained his eligibility for the last 17 games he contributed to a conference championship and a No. 3 ranking in the final NJCAA poll; earned his associate degree and accepted a full-ride to Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Three games into his junior season at Corpus Christi, Bullard was off the team and back in Detroit after the coach informed him he was not in the plans for the next season. Bullard maintained his eligibility by earning a 4.0 GPA in summer classes at Marygrove College and returned to Corpus Christi for his senior year, when a new coach was hired.

Even with a great showing in the Slam Dunk contest, Bullard went to Washington to live with his grandma and work. There the Harlem Globetrotters contacted him and changed his life.  Having already played in 35 countries, Bullard is continuing his inspiring story of the foster kid from Detroit who made it to professional basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.

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