Longtime Harlem Globetrotters member Orlando “El Gato” Menendez took a photo with Noah Cutler of Myrtle Beach on Monday for the purpose of a social media push.
Menendez is trying to get his Instagram followers up from about 9,100 to 10,000.
He figures a post shared with the 14-year-old’s more than 147,000 followers under Cutler’s Instagram handle @Babybirdman3 might give him a boost.
The eighth-grader at Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach has become a social media sensation because of his basketball skills and the places they have taken him.
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“I don’t really have any other outside interests,” Cutler said. “It’s just basically eat, sleep and then basketball, then that repeats.”
In addition to his Instagram account, videos of Cutler through YouTube, Facebook and other internet outlets have garnered approximately 700 million views, according to his father, Josh. He started his own YouTube channel in the past year.
One particular video caught the attention of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors and helped skyrocket Cutler’s popularity.
He imitated star point guard Steph Curry’s pregame dribbling warmup routine and posted it on Instagram. “I didn’t think anything was going to come of it, then the Warriors saw it and called my dad and asked if they could fly me out and I could do a little show at their place,” Cutler said. “I was really nervous. I don’t really remember it like that, though. It was just like a dream. It’s a blur now.”
Cutler mimicked Curry in pregame warmups, participated in a skills challenge at halftime and received a lot merchandise from Curry, including his basketball sneakers.
“After that stuff started getting bigger,” said Cutler, who earned the nickname Baby Birdman around 2013 when he had a Mohawk hairstyle that some thought resembled the one of Chris “Birdman” Andersen, then of the NBA champion Miami Heat.
Cutler said he had about 50,000 Instagram followers before his appearance with Curry, which quickly added nearly 100,000 to his number.
This past summer he was flown out to Los Angeles to do a parody/recreation of a scene from the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” entitled “White Kids Can’t Jump.” It was directed by the Hudson Dusters, aka Michael Kuhn and Niles Roth, who were both inspired by the movie, and features Cutler with fellow young basketball prodigy Enzo Lee playing the parts of actors Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson.
He has been on multiple TV shows including the T.D. Jakes Show in L.A., and has been invited to attend several Globetrotters games, including one in Charleston during which he took part in on-court tricks with the players.
The video from that collaboration had viral success, and he has also shot other pre-game videos with the Globetrotters.
On Monday, Cutler played some one-on-one with Melendez as they were awaiting the start of a school assembly in the gym.
Melendez, who played at North Carolina from 1998-2001, has seen video of Cutler with the Globetrotters but hadn’t performed with him until Monday.
“He’s a great example of how kids should be working at this age,” said Melendez, who performed and spoke during the assembly to promote the Globetrotters’ appearance Sunday at the Florence Civic Center. “. . . It shows a dedication and interest and love. He shows a lot of talent. I wish I was that good when I was that age, and I got a chance to go to the University of North Carolina, so he’s an amazing kid.”
Cutler said he has overcome a nervousness and shyness in front of large crowds or cameras and can block the outside distractions. “I was shy with it at first but I’ve grown to like not really be scared of it at all,” he said, “just phase everything out and do it by myself.”
His basketball skills have developed quickly. Cutler said he was looking for a sport to play at the age of 8. “I didn’t really like baseball, I played soccer but I didn’t really like it, and I was too small to play football,” Cutler said. “So we tried basketball. I played in a couple seasons of rec league, and then when I was about 10 years old I started taking it seriously and it has moved on from there. It’s just hours in the gym and hard work.”
Cutler was homeschooled until he reached sixth grade. His father contracted Lyme disease and was bedridden for some time, so he decided to homeschool Noah.
“So we got really close and it gave me an opportunity to spend a lot of time to work with him,” Josh Cutler said, “and he kind of fell in love with basketball and said, ‘Dad, this is my dream.’ So I was like, ‘I’ll do whatever I can to help you facilitate that.’ ”
The family moved to Myrtle Beach from suburban Washington, D.C., about two years ago. Josh Cutler said the family wanted to move from the high-traffic area and was attracted in part by the warmer weather that would favorably impact the Lyme disease, affordable cost of living and the Christian Academy.
Josh Cutler played high school basketball and is the Christian Academy middle school boys team coach and manages the Christ United church social media accounts. His wife, Traci, is a nurse and received a job offer in the area before the move.
Cutler’s dedication to basketball has increased since the relocation. He often works on his game before school, after school and after practices.
“We’re literally in the gym every single day working on his game,” his father said. “There’s the whole social media side, but he’s a phenomenal basketball player. At the core that’s what we do. The show stuff is nice, but at the core playing basketball is what he loves.”
Noah is 5-foot-3 so he’s short for his age. His father is 6-2 and his mother is 5-4, so there’s potential for growth.
Christian Academy boys basketball coach Colin Stevens knows what it takes to play NCAA Division I basketball as an undersized player, if that’s what Cutler turns out to be later in high school. Stevens is 5-7 and played at Coastal Carolina.
“The kid loves basketball. He works at it, works at it, works at it,” Stevens said. “He is a little smaller for his age, but that’s something I know about too as a small player. I had to do something to make up for it skill-wise.
“He just gets after it. He can play. He plays so much bigger than he is because of how confident he is, how strong he is with the ball, he can pass, he can shoot, he can handle it, he defends hard. . . . He’s fun to work with and as long as he stays on that track he’s got a bright future.”
There is no basketball offseason for Cutler. He expects to play on the AAU circuit this summer for the Big Shots 2023 class team. He’s on the Christian Academy middle school team this year and will be a candidate as a freshman for the school’s boys varsity team next season.
Wherever the game takes him, it’s sure to be followed by many.
“My first goal is to play college ball, and then after that it’s where basketball takes me, if it takes me overseas or takes me to the NBA,” Cutler said.