OrlOrlan­do Melen­dez a.k.a. “El Gato” (The Cat) (born Feb­ru­ary 14, 1979), is the first Puer­to Rican-born bas­ket­ball play­er ever to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Early years

Melen­dez was born in the City of Ponce, but lived and was raised in the town of Jua­na Díaz, where he also received his pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary edu­ca­tion. When he was 14 years old, he would go home after school and with his bas­ket­ball under his arm make take a 2‑mile jog through the sug­ar cane fields every day to the near­est bas­ket­ball court and prac­tice the sport with the local kids. Run­ning was in his blood since father used to run marathons, and his grand­fa­ther is a track and field expert.

He always grabbed a snack to eat dur­ing his trek and would drop crumbs along the way. As a result, when­ev­er he arrived at the court he would be accom­pa­nied by an entourage of cats, thus his nick­name “El Gato” (the cat). Melen­dez tried out for his Jua­na Díaz high school bas­ket­ball team and was accept­ed. Through an exchange stu­dent pro­gram, he was able to play at McDow­ell High School in Mar­i­on, North Car­oli­na, where he fin­ished his senior year.

North Carolina Tar Heels

In 1997, Melen­dez was award­ed a schol­ar­ship to the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na. There he began his col­lege bas­ket­ball career by play­ing for the North Car­oli­na Tar Heels, where he appeared in the Final Fours in 1998 and 2000. From 1998 to 2007, Melen­dez played for UNC and pro­fes­sion­al­ly in Europe and Puer­to Rico. He played for:

  • North Car­oli­na (NCAA) 1998–1999, 2000–2001, 2002;
  • Leones de Ponce 1999–2000; *Pol­lue­los de Aiboni­to (Puer­to Rico-BSN) 2001–2002;
  • Tori­tos de Cayey (Puer­to Rico-BSN), in May was trad­ed to
  • Los Atleti­cos de San Ger­man (Puer­to Rico-BSN): 16 games; Atleti­cos de San Ger­man (Balon­ces­to Supe­ri­or Nacional (BSN), start­ing five) 2003–2004, 2006;
  • Gris­es Ori­en­tales de Humacao (Super­League 25, start­ing five) 2004;
  • Indios de Mayagüez (BSN): 20 games 2004–2005;
  • Guayanil­la (Super­League 25, start­ing five) 2005;
  • Gal­li­tos de Isabela (BSN): 31 games 2006;
  • Luxbas­ket camp in Wiltz 2006–2007:
  • AS Soleu­vre (LUX-DBBL): 11 games; in Dec.’06 try-out at Eif­fel Tow­ers Den Bosch (NED-Ere­di­visie), in Feb.’07 moved to
  • Team Mer­ry Monk Bal­li­na (IRL-Super­League): 8 games, 2007; *Mara­ton­istas de Coamo (BSN, start­ing five), in May moved to
  • Can­gre­jeros de San­turce (BSN): 13 games, 2008; Can­gre­jeros de San­turce (BSN): Liga Amer­i­c­as: 6 games.

Harlem Globetrotters


In 2007, Sam Worthen, the for­mer Chica­go Bulls and New Orleans Jazz guard, coached pro­fes­sion­al­ly in Puer­to Rico. He also coached the Wash­ing­ton Gen­er­als the peren­ni­al Glo­be­trot­ters punch­ing bag. Worthen, impressed with Melen­dez’s abil­i­ty to play and enter­tain sug­gest­ed Melen­dez try out for the Glo­be­trot­ters after the two had bumped into each oth­er out­side the San Juan apart­ment build­ing in which they both lived.

In 2008, Melen­dez became the first Puer­to Rican-born bas­ket­ball play­er ever to play for the Harlem Glo­be­trot­ters. He was not how­ev­er, the first His­pan­ic of Puer­to Rican descent to play for the Glo­be­trot­ters. That dis­tinc­tion belongs to Orlan­do Antigua, whose moth­er is Puer­to Rican and who in 1995 made Glo­be­trot­ters his­to­ry by becom­ing the first His­pan­ic and non-black to play for the team.

Melen­dez whose posi­tion is that of “pow­er for­ward”, injured his knee dur­ing train­ing camp. He had surgery to repair a torn lat­er­al menis­cus. Melen­dez was well enough for the start of the Decem­ber 26 domes­tic season.


Among Melen­dez’s awards and achieve­ments are the following:

  • NCAA Final Four ‑00
  • ACC Cham­pi­on Run­ner-Up ‑01
  • Puer­to Rico Nation­al Team −01−02
  • Puer­to Rican PRSBL All Star Game ‑01
  • Cen­tral Amer­i­can Cham­pi­onships (Cen­trobas­ket) Cham­pi­on ‑01
  • Tour­na­ment of the Amer­i­c­as (Copa Amer­i­ca) in Neuquin (ARG) –01(Semifinals)
  • “Gatorade” Dunk­ing con­test in the Puer­to Rican All Star Game ‑2002
  • Puer­to Rican BSN Semi­fi­nals ‑03
  • Irish Super­league Final­ist ‑07
  • Irish Super­league North Con­fer­ence Run­ner-Up ‑07
  • Puer­to Rican BSN Cham­pi­on ‑07