The Harlem Globetrotters Magicians of Basketball
Since 1926 the Harlem Globetrotters have thrilled audiences around the world as the premier exhibition basketball team. Combining their talented athleticism with comedy and theater, the Globetrotters have played over 25,000 games entertaining young and old and becoming ambassadors of goodwill.
The team originated in the 1920s where all the original players grew up on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. Most of the players attended Chicago’s first predominately black Wendell Phillips High School. Although they were from Chicago, owner Abe Saperstein decided to name them the Harlem Globetrotters to point out that the players were African-Americans and that they had traveled the globe. They did not play in Harlem until 1968.
The Globetrotters started out as a serious competitive team and won admiration when the all-black team beat the all-white Lakers 61-59 in February 1948. Even though they had talented players, the team also had a flair for entertainment, often clowning around for the audience only after gaining a safe lead in the game. As more black players were drafted by the NBA during the 1950s, it became harder for the Globetrotters to attract and retain top talent.
Eventually the Globetrotters became known more for entertaining audiences with their comic routines than a competitive sports team. The team’s act was to amaze the spectators in their skillful handling of several basketballs in the way they passed, juggled balls between players, and used their incredible coordination to make difficult shots. Many NBA greats have played for the Globetrotters. Players like Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, as well as baseball Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins. During the 1970s and 80s they had a popular team member, Fred “Curly” Neal remembered as the best dribbler of that era of the team’s history. Their first female player was Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard who was signed in 1985.
Although beloved by audiences globally, the Globetrotters have not been free of scrutiny and criticism. During the civil rights era they were accused of “Tomming for Abe”, a reference to Uncle Tom and white owner Abe Saperstein. This accusation stemmed from the fact that the players were all African American and their skits involved so much buffoonery. Despite the critics, many prominent civil rights activists maintained that the Globetrotters were indeed a positive influence and did not portray blacks as stupid.
In 1993 under new owner and former player, Mannie Jackson, the Globetrotters began playing competitive basketball after having played hundreds of exhibition games. The team had a run of 8,829 straight victories since 1971 until they lost in 1995 to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s All Star Team in Vienna, Austria. They have played over 20,000 exhibition games in 118 countries and have achieved a winning percentage of 98.4%.
The Harlem Globetrotters have been featured in several of their own films and television series over the years and continue to entertain audiences around the world. Their new generation of star players will continue the tradition of playing exhibition games and providing audiences with entertainment and the thrill of watching these magicians of basketball perform their magic.