Most people have heard of the Harlem Globetrotters, the world’s most enigmatic basketball teams, known for their family-friendly comedy antics and incredible ball handling tricks. They have played in over 26,000 exhibition games in more than 120 countries around the world, and have entertained the likes of kings, queens, presidents and popes. You probably even heard their theme song, “Sweet Georgia Brown.” whistled in your head just hearing their name. However, you might not know their rich history and storied beginnings.
More than 90 years ago, the Harlem Globetrotters were founded as the Savoy Big Five, an opening act for dance routines and named for the famous Chicago “Savoy Ballroom.” By 1927, they were managed by a young legend-in-the-making, Abe Saperstein, who struggled to build their popularity during a time when professional teams played “whites only” and hotels and exhibition halls enforced the same rule.
In 1929, the team transitioned through several names from Globe Trotters, through the Saperstein Globetrotters, New York Globetrotters, and Harlem New York Globetrotters before finally settling on the Harlem Globetrotters. Saperstein was said to have picked the city of Harlem because it was the center for African American culture at the time, and felt that a distant away team title would lend them “A bit of mystique.” The Harlem Globetrotters wouldn’t play their first game in Harlem, until 1968. The team continued to hone their skills and developed their act as Saperstein booked them in town after town and state after state leading up to their first Championship game in 1939, in which they lost against the New York Renaissance.
Though quickly their skill sharpened and in 1941, they would debut their first comedy act out of both necessity and quick thinking. While leading an exhibition game by a score of 112 to 5, with such an outlandish lead, the crowd began losing interest in the game. In order to keep people in their seats and to entertain themselves, the Globetrotters decided to have a little fun and try out some tricks. Saperstein loved the idea of using their clownish antics to entertain the guests, but only if they had a large enough lead to secure a win.
The Harlem Globetrotters continued to play throughout the 1940s and 1950s, adding new firsts and shattering boundaries. Such as in 1951 when they were called upon by the United States to play for allied soldiers in Berlin as a way of competing with the Youth Rallies of Nazi Germany. They would play games to entertain popes and the lower class alike, doing their part to shut down social barriers, and close social class gaps. Although the NBA first started in 1946, it was a “whites only” organization, until 1950, and that’s the first time Saperstein ever truly had competition on acquiring new talent, though that didn’t stop him, or the Harlem Globetrotters.
By 1966, the year Saperstein died, the Globetrotters had played 8,945 games in over 1,200 cities and 82 countries. They had won dozens of world championships, and were on a 9-year winning streak. They were dedicated athletes and quickly found themselves becoming a household name thanks to their 1970s Saturday morning cartoon show, “The Harlem Globetrotters Show.” Due to appearances on Scooby-Doo and heavy merchandising, the 1970s and ‘80s were eras of comedic values and wholesome family entertainment for the Globetrotters. U.S. President Gerald Ford even named the team the official US Ambassadors of Goodwill. In 1985 the Globetrotters were the first professional sports team to allow woman to play alongside men, when they recruited Lynette Woodard.
To this day, the Globetrotters are the benchmark in the world of basketball. Famous pro players Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson credited famous Globetrotters Wilt Chamberlain and Meadowlark Lemon as their inspiration to play the sport. The Globetrotters have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute.
Now is your chance to see them play again. The Globetrotters just kicked off their 91st season, and on February 11th they will be back in the 909 at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. This year, they have added a 4-point line, a staggering 6 feet, 3 inches farther than the NBA’s 3-point line to showcase the skill and amazing ball handling abilities that the world has come to expect from the Harlem Globetrotters.
If you’re a longtime fan or just looking to start a new family tradition, now is the perfect time to enjoy the Globetrotters’ rim-rattling dunks and amazing trick shots coupled with their unequaled comedy antics and fan interaction. You can even arrive early to meet and greet the star-studded roster that is set to include Big Easy Loften, Ant Atkinson, Hi-Lite Bruton, Thunder Law, Bull Bullard and Cheese Chisholm – plus female stars TNT Lister and Ace Jackson, as the Globetrotters continue their fine tradition of advancing players from all walks of life and celebrating diversity by playing female stars as equal and accepted members of the team.