Harlem Globetrotters

The Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team that combines athleticism and comedy.

Created by Abe Saperstein in 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, the team adopted the name Harlem because of its connotations as a major African-American community. Over the years they have played more than 20,000 exhibition games in 118 countries.

Brother Bones's whistled version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" is the team's signature song. Globie has been their mascot since 1993.

Early history

There is no clear consensus as to the very beginnings of the Globetrotters. The official history contains several details which seem contradictory, such as the team being organized in 1926 in the Savoy Ballroom, which opened in 1927. What is clear is that the genesis of the Globetrotters takes place in the South Side of Chicago in the 1920s, where all the original players grew up. Most of the players also attended Wendell Phillips High School. When the Savoy Ballroom opened in November 1927, one of the premier attractions was the Savoy Big Five, a basketball team that played exhibitions before dances. In 1928, several players left the team in a dispute over bringing back other players who had left the team. That fall, several players led by Tommy Brookins formed a team called the "Globe Trotters" which would tour southern Illinois that spring. Abe Saperstein became involved with the team, though to exactly what extent is unclear. In any event, by 1929 Saperstein was touring Illinois and Iowa with his basketball team, called the "New York Harlem Globe Trotters". Saperstein decided to pick Harlem as their home city since Harlem was considered the center of African-American culture at the time, and an out of town team name would give the team more of a mystique. After four decades of existence, the Globetrotters played their first "home" game in Harlem in 1968.

The first star player of those early Globe Trotters (the name would be merged into one word later on) was Albert "Runt" Pullins, an adept dribbler and shooter. Soon he would be joined by 6'3" Inman Jackson, who played center and had a flair for showboating. They would originate the two roles that would stay with the 'trotters for decades, the showman and the dribbler.

The Globetrotters were initially a serious competitive team, and despite a flair for entertainment, they would only clown for the audience after establishing a safe lead in the game. In 1939, they accepted an invitation to participate in the World Professional Basketball Tournament, where they met the New York Rens in the semi-finals in the first big clash of the two greatest all-black professional basketball teams. The Rens defeated the Globetrotters and went on to win the Tournament, but in 1940 the Globetrotters avenged their loss by defeating the Rens in the quarterfinals and advancing to the championship game, where they beat the Chicago Bruins in overtime by a score of 37–36.

The Globetrotters beat the premier professional team, the Minneapolis Lakers (led by George Mikan), for two years in a row in 1948 and 1949, with the Lakers winning later contests. The February 1948 win (by a score of 61-59, on a buzzer beater) was a hallmark in professional basketball history, as the all-black Globetrotters proved they were on an equal footing with the all-white Lakers. Momentum for ending the National Basketball Association's color line grew, and in 1950, Chuck Cooper became the first black player drafted by an NBA team, the Boston Celtics. From that time on the Globetrotters had increasing difficulty attracting and retaining top talent.

Tony Peyton was the last living member of the original Globetrotters. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1996. He died in Midland, Texas, on July 23, 2007, at the age of eighty-five.

Finding success

The Globetrotters gradually worked comic routines into their act until they became known more for entertainment than sports. The Globetrotters' acts often feature incredible coordination and skillful handling of one or more basketballs, such as passing or juggling balls between players, balancing or spinning balls on their fingertips, and making unusual, difficult shots.

Among the players who have been Globetrotters are NBA greats Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain, Connie "The Hawk" Hawkins and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, as well as Marques Haynes, George "Meadowlark" Lemon, Jerome James, former Temple coach John Chaney, Reece "Goose" Tatum, and Hubert "Geese" Ausbie. Another popular team member in the 1970s and 1980s was Fred "Curly" Neal who was the best dribbler of that era of the team's history and was immediately recognizable due to his shaven head. Baseball Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins and Lou Brock also played for the team at one time or another. In 1985, the Globetrotters signed their first female player, Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard, and their second, Joyce Walker, just three weeks later.

Because virtually all of its players have been African American, and because of the buffoonery involved in many of the Globetrotters' skits, they drew some criticism in the Civil Rights era. The players were derisively accused of "Tomming for Abe", a reference to Uncle Tom and white owner Abe Saperstein. However, prominent civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (who would later be named an Honorary Globetrotter) came to their defense by stating, "I think they've been a positive influence... They did not show blacks as stupid. On the contrary, they were shown as superior."

Winning streaks and rare defeats

After losing to the Washington Generals in 1962, the Harlem Globetrotters lost only two more games in the next 38 years (12,596 games). Usually they played a "stooge" team owned by Red Klotz, which also appeared as the Boston Shamrocks, New Jersey Reds, Baltimore Rockets, or the Atlantic City Seagulls. On January 5, 1971 they lost in Martin, Tennessee in overtime to the New Jersey Reds; the 100-99 score ended an alleged 2,495-game winning streak (which meant that the Globetrotters were playing 277 games per year up until that date).

In addition to their hundreds of exhibition games, the Globetrotters have faced some competitive action since the mid-1990s. On September 12, 1995, they lost 91–85 to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's All Star Team in Vienna, Austria ending an alleged run of 8,829 straight victories in going back to 1971 (though 8,829 games in twenty-four years would mean the Globetrotters were playing nearly 368 games per year—or more than one game a day some days, for twenty four years). The 48-year-old Abdul-Jabbar scored 34 points. The Globetrotters won the other 10 games during that European tour.

They also immediately went on another winning streak of 1,270 before losing 72–68 to the Michigan State University Spartans on November 13, 2000.

On Saturday November 15, 2003, the UTEP Miners beat the Harlem Globetrotters 89-88 ending their 288 game win streak.

On February 27, 2006, the Globetrotters extended their overall record to exactly 22,000 wins. Their most recent loss came on March 31, 2006 when they went down 87–83 to the NABC College All-Stars to bring their loss tally to just 345—a winning percentage of 98.4%.

The Globetrotters claim all their exhibition games are "real, competitive" contests.

Harlem Globetrotters in films and television

The Harlem Globetrotters have been featured in several of their own films and television series over the years:

  • The Harlem Globetrotters, a 1951 feature film starring Whitney Rumsey and other Globetrotters, also featuring Thomas Gomez, Dorothy Dandridge, Bill Walker, and Angela Clarke. Young Bill Townsend drops out of college to join the famous independent Trotter team. He also finds romance along the way. "Goose" Tatum and fancy dribbler Haynes were the star players of the Globetrotters at the time and Saperstein was the owner. Tatum, Haynes, Babe Presley, Ermer Robinson, Duke Cumberland, Clarence Wilson, Pop Gates, Frank Washington, Ted Strong and other current team members appear in the film as themselves. Also featured is a lot of actual game footage (three times against the Celtics with Tony Lavelli and Big Bob Hahn), including their famous "Sweet Georgia Brown" warm-up routine. (Along with making the film, the team toured Major League Baseball stadiums that year and went on their first tour of South America).
  • Go, Man, Go!, a 1954 sequel, starring Dane Clark as Abe Saperstein and Sidney Poitier as Inman Jackson.
  • Harlem Globetrotters, a Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon, broadcast from September 12, 1970 to May 1973. Originally broadcast on CBS, and later re-run on NBC as The Go-Go Globetrotters.
  • Coach Reeves of the 1970s TV series The White Shadow persuades the Harlem Globetrotters to prevent his team's winning streak from going to their heads. This is one of the few TV appearances of the Globetrotters where they outscored their opponents in the first half, as the game was mostly a life lesson and not a contest. The Globetrotters would return in season 3 when star player Warren Coolidge, convinced that his basketball ability will preclude his need to finish high school, considers dropping out of school and trying out for the Globetrotters. After failing miserably in his tryout, Coolidge is convinced to finish his education before giving any thought to a basketball career. The Globetrotters reinforce his decision by each introducing themselves to him by name and adding their college alma maters to their introductions.
  • The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, a 1974 live-action Saturday morning variety show starring the Globetrotters which featured comedy skits, blackout gags, and educational segments. The show was produced by Funhouse Productions and Yongestreet Productions for CBS.
  • The Super Globetrotters, a second animated series created by Hanna-Barbera for NBC in 1979. It featured the Globetrotters (now including new squad members James "Twiggy" Sanders, Nate Branch and Louis "Sweet Lou" Dunbar) as undercover superheroes, who would transform from their regular forms by entering magic portable lockers carried in "Sweet Lou" Dunbar's afro, or in a basketball-shaped medallion. Although the Super Globetrotters would first attempt to take on the villain with standard comical heroics, things would almost always be settled with a basketball game.

  • The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, a 1981 made-for-TV film featured the Globetrotters alongside Bob Denver and the rest of the cast of Gilligan's Island. The film's plot follows the first animated series' formula to a degree with a conflict that ends with an unusual basketball game against an opposing team made up of robots. The Globetrotters decide to play with standard moves in the first half, which the robots are able to counter, until Gilligan unwittingly comments that they have not done any fancy tricks, which make the Professor advise the team to use their comedic style of play to win, which hopelessly confuses the machines. However, a couple of Globetrotters suffer injuries, and Gilligan and the Skipper have to be substitute players.
  • Harlem Globetrotters: The Team that Changed the World, a 2005 documentary featuring interviews with the Globetrotters, NBA coaches and fans such as Bill Cosby, Samuel L. Jackson, Barack Obama, Phil Jackson and Henry Kissinger—himself an honorary Globetrotter—and including photos of the Globetrotters with Pope John Paul II.

Other appearances

Former Globetrotter Mel Davis was the subject of the short documentary Hardwood, directed by his son, Hubert Davis. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 2006.

A contestant on the April 6, 2007, episode of the NBC game show Identity correctly identified "Stranger" #12 as being Eugene Edgerson.

The Harlem Globetrotters have made multiple appearances on the animated show Futurama. These episodes feature fictional Globetrotters led by Ethan "Bubblegum" Tate (played by Phil LaMarr). These 31st century Globetrotters have their own planet, and are also proficient in science and mathematics. In the episode "Time Keeps on Slippin'", the Globetrotter Homeworld challenges Earth to a basketball game (the only stakes being the shame of defeat). At one point in the episode, "Bubblegum" declares several characters as honorary Globetrotters. The Globetrotters appear again in the feature length episode "Bender's Big Score", in which they assist Professor Farnsworth in figuring out the mechanics of Paradox-free Time Travel. The Globetrotter known as "Curley Joe" is a parody of Curly Neal.

An episode of All in the Family had Lionel Jefferson agreeing with Archie Bunker that racial quotas and affirmative action are not a good idea and making a comment "because 88% of Americans are white, what if there was a law saying the Harlem Globetrotters were forced to have 88% of their team have white players?".

A 1991 episode of Saturday Night Live spoofed desegregation of sports with "The First Black Harlem Globetrotter". Michael Jordan plays a fictional player called "Sweet River Banes", who is supposedly the first black member of the Globetrotters in the 1920s.

The Harlem Globetrotters appeared briefly in The Simpsons episode entitled "Homie the Clown" in which Krusty the Clown foolishly bets all his profits from opening a clown college against the Globetrotters stating that he "thought the Generals were due".

The Harlem Globetrotters have also appeared in a special Scooby Doo episode called "Scooby Doo meets the Harlem Globetrotters".

The Globetrotters appeared in a commercial urging charitable support for the Disabled American Veterans where they are shooting baskets with disabled veterans who are playing wheelchair basketball.

The Harlem Globetrotters appeared in the 2000 feature film Little Nicky.

The logo and uniforms of the '70s All-Star Team in the NBA Live video game series resemble the Globetrotter uniforms. Former Globetrotter Wilt Chamberlain is a member of the team.

A Harlem Globetrotter appears in the show 30 Rock when a party of Kenneth Parcell's goes terribly wrong.

On April 17th 2008, the Globetrotters made a guest appearance at Goodison Park, Liverpool, before a Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea.

In September 1979, Bally Manufacturing Company, Pinball Division, released a pinball machine called "Harlem Globetrotters On Tour", featuring the members of the Harlem Globetrotters at that time, a pin game that was to become one of Bally's most successful pinball machines ever, with 14,550 units made. The pin game would become a collector's item in later years.

Retired numbers

The Globetrotters have retired six numbers to date:

Honorary Harlem Globetrotters

These eight people have been officially named as honorary members by the team:

In addition, Bill Cosby (in 1972) and Magic Johnson (in 2003) have been signed to $1-a-year lifetime contracts with the Globetrotters. Cosby's was increased to $1.05 in 1986.



  • Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters, by Ben Green (2005). HarperCollins, Publishers.

External links

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