One of the longest highways in the United States is Interstate 40. Spanning more than 2,500 miles, it passes through eight states, from North Carolina to California. Weaving its way through cities, counties and landscapes that have very little in common except for the highway that connects them.

Midway between Memphis, Tennessee and Little Rock, Arkansas, Interstate 40 passes through a town with a population of just over 2,500 people. Originally founded as a railroad town in 1872, Brinkley, Arkansas, is known as a transportation and agricultural center, but for Herbert Lang, it’s home. It’s there he first learned the lesson that would serve as his own version of the interstate next to his town – connecting events in his life that didn’t innately have much in common: a college basketball scholarship, nearly two decades as a Harlem Globetrotter and a career as a motivational speaker.

These things may seem as different as North Carolina is from California, but for Lang, they connected because of the one truth he learned early on the streets of Brinkley: kindness is free.

In a small town like Brinkley, most people know most people, and for Lang, two of those people he was lucky enough to call grandma.

On his mother’s side was Mahaley, a woman of faith who brought Herb, from as early as five years old, around the small southeast towns with her to tent revivals.

“She didn’t have a lot,” Lang remembered. “But she was willing to be nice to people. She’d walk through my little small town and just check on people.”

On his father’s side was Mamie, who worked in a nursing home. Lang remembers walking from school to her work and seeing the joy she brought to the faces of those who didn’t have many visitors simply by being kind.

“That was something that lit a fire in me, to see the joy and impact even just coming in and waving and speaking to some of the older people in the nursing home,” Lang said. “That showed me at a young age the impact that you can have just by being nice. It kind of grew into me, and I grew into it. I had no other choice.”

Lang eventually found his way to a basketball court, earning a scholarship to the Centenary College of Louisiana team in Shreveport. After finding his feet during his freshman and sophomore years, he was one of the top scorers in the Trans America Athletic Conference his junior year, averaging 19.6 points a game through 27 games. As a preseason Conference Player of the Year heading into his senior year, there were a lot of eyes on Lang, and he was poised to take flight.

“I had a coaching change going into my senior year,” Lang explained. “That kind of changed up the way that I had been used, but it was a blessing in disguise.”

Lang was invited to the 1998 NCAA Dunk Contest and immediately owned the opportunity. With a high bounce, Lang set up a two-handed dunk that set the crowd on fire, their paper signs showing perfect 10s as he hyped them up. The next dunk he spotted up in the corner, feeding himself the ball just in front of the basket before running into a one-handed dunk that had the crowd erupting yet again.

“I was on ESPN with Dick Vitale calling out my name,” Lang remembered with a smile. “That was something that gave me an opportunity to put myself out there even more.”

Lang took it up another level for his final dunk, approaching the basket at a full sprint before exploding into a dynamic 360 one-handed dunk, which sealed the deal for his victory. But it wasn’t just his vertical that served as a hint of what was to come for Lang, but the way he played to the crowd after every dunk, engaging the audience to a frenzy.

That, after all, is a massive part of what makes a great Harlem Globetrotter.

With the National Basketball Association in a lockout and no opportunities to build on the momentum and attention he’d created at the dunk contest, Lang returned to school to finish his degree in health and physical education. After school, he began working as a personal trainer until his roommate, Allen Sihatrai, who had played soccer at Centenary, brought home the flyer that changed everything.

“He went to a Globetrotter game when I was working as a personal trainer after I graduated,” Lang explained. “Between his experience there and knowing me, he felt like, at least with the dunk, that I could do that and I could learn the other things they were doing. He was excited to come home and give me the program with the 1-800 number he had gotten there.”

While Sihatrai’s prevailing emotion may have been excitement, Lang could not say he felt the same way.

“My first reaction was, ‘Man, get that thing out of my face. I'm not going to play for the Globetrotters,’” Lang remembered with a laugh. “It's something that I never really imagined, but as the days began to pass, and it turned into a couple of weeks, I remembered watching the Globetrotters cartoons and watching them with my grandmother and then realizing that this was an opportunity, potentially, and it'd be silly for me to pass it up. So, one day, I came home from work, I said, ‘Hey, man, where's that pamphlet with that 1-800 number on it?’”

That moment, Lang explained, expanded his life philosophy of “kindness is free” to something equally empowering.

“That was somebody who believed in me more than I believed in myself, leading me down that path. Sometimes we don't even see the gift that others see in us.”

It was a path that would define the next 18 years of Lang’s life, but first, he had to make the team.

“The first couple of days it was probably like any other basketball training camp,” said Lang of the 1999 Globetrotters camp he attended. ”There were about 20 of us, and there were just drills, no tricks. [They wanted to see] can you play basketball? It was a real basketball training camp. And we had some really good basketball players that came in during that time, guys that did actually play in the NBA. But once they kind of weeded out the guys who they felt had the personality and the ability to potentially be a part of the team, they kept about eight of us. And then, they brought in 16 to 20 veterans. And they ended up keeping probably six of us from the eight that would be a part of the 24. That was the roster for that year.”

“It was like a dream,” said Lang of making that first team. “I was watching these guys who I had seen on television and seeing the things that they were able to do firsthand, live and in person, [I was also] feeling the pressure, almost thinking, ‘I will not be able to do these things.’ But I was lucky enough to be around a lot of guys who were helpful, a lot of guys who wanted to see me succeed. I was also smart enough to take a step back, observe, find my way and not just jump in day one, like I knew everything.”

Jumping in may not have been Lang’s style, but jumping, just generally, certainly was. His win at the NCAA Dunk Contest the year before had not escaped the notice of his new teammates or Manny Jackson, Globetrotters owner at the time. Almost as soon as he made the team, the race was on to figure out Lang’s nickname. It was Jackson who cracked the code.

“He felt like, me having won the dunk contest and what he saw at training camp, that every time I jumped, I should be getting frequent-flyer miles. So, he started calling me ‘Flight Time.’”

Herb “Flight Time” Lang stayed with the Globetrotters for 18 years, first as a player and then as a player-coach. Kindness, Lang says, is the highway that connects every moment of those years and the opportunities that came along with them. Opportunities as wide-reaching as meeting former President Barack Obama and spinning a basketball on the Pope’s finger to as simple as seeing a smile on a child’s face in Spain. Realizing the language of kindness is universal.

Lang may not be globetrotting the same way he did when he suited up for them during all those years, but his message of “kindness is free” is still one he’s sharing around the world.

“Many people had taken a stand for me to be able to accomplish some of the things I've been able to accomplish,” said Lang of what made his career possible. “I realized just because I wasn't globetrotting anymore doesn't mean I don't get to continue to build upon the experiences that I had. It was just now time for me to kind of branch out, you know, out of this experience, and also share with individuals on a different level the experiences that I had and how they get to accomplish a lot of the same things. And again, the kindness that was shown along the way.”