Pistons.com profiles The Harlem Globetrotters
For nearly 80 years, the Harlem Globetrotters have entertained millions of fans around the world with their unique mix of basketball skill and humor. They have played the world over, in front of popes and kings. They have made thousands of television appearances. We all know the names “Meadowlark” Lemon and “Curley” Neal and everyone has heard the Globetrotters theme music “Sweet Georgia Brown.” But who are the Globetrotters and where did they come from?
In celebration of Black History Month, we will try to answer some of your questions about the world’s winningest professional sports team.
Did you know that the Globetrotters actually started in Chicago and were formed from the Wendell Phillips High School? The team played in the Negro American Legion League under the name Giles Post. In 1927, the team turned professional as the Savoy Five. Later that year, promoter Abe Saperstein purchased the team and renamed them the “Saperstein’s New York Globetrotters.” In 1930, Saperstein again changed their name to the Harlem New York Globetrotters.
Did you know that the team has never had any affiliation with Harlem, New York? Their original owner, Abe Saperstein wanted to give the impression that the team of all-black players represented the mostly black borough. Saperstein was also so infatuated with New York that he rented an office in the Empire State Building just so he could have a New York address.
Did you know that in the early days of the team, they had only five players, forcing Saperstein to wear a uniform under his suit in case of an injury? The team even traveled in Saperstein’s Ford Model “T”.
Did you know that the Globetrotters made their Detroit debut on Thanksgiving 1932? It was the first time the team had played in a major city.
Did you know that the team’s 1,000th game was played in Iron Mountain, MI?
Harlem Globetrotters (1940)
Did you know that the clowning around on the court did not begin until 1939? With the Globetrotters leading the game 112-5, the players began to amuse the crowd with their antics. Saperstein gave the team permission to add more clowning around…but only when the game was safely in hand. It was during this game that Inman Jackson created the high-post pivot position still used by teams in today’s game.
Did you know that Abe Saperstein also owned the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons? The Black Barons were the baseball antithesis of the Globetrotters. There was no hot-dogging or goofing around on the baseball diamond. Unlike other teams in the Negro Leagues, the Black Barons were about tough, hard-nosed baseball. Saperstein was one of the most popular men in the league, always managing to fill the stands and handsomely pay his players on time.
Harlem Globetrotters (1942)
Did you know that the Globetrotters’ color barrier was broken in 1942? Bob Karstens from Dubuque, Iowa becomes the first Caucasian player under contract with the team. Original owner Abe Saperstein was the first white player to play with the team, but Karstens was the first under contract.
Did you know that the Globetrotters played in the original “Game of the Century?” On February 20, 1948, the Globetrotters defeated George Mikan’s World Champion Minneapolis Lakers 61-59 on Ermer Robinson’s last second shot. The Globetrotters also defeated the Lakers in 1949.
Did you know that the Globetrotters played in front of the largest and smallest crowds in their history in 1951? On August 21, they played in front of 75,000 in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. The game was highlighted by a 15-minute standing ovation when 1936 Olympian Jesse Owens was announced as a special guest of the team. Later that year, the team played in front of Pope Pius XII and only Pope Pius XII at his summer home in Castel Gandolfo, Italy.
Did you know that Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein had a hand in creating teams like the New York Nationals and the Washington Generals, the perennial Globetrotters opponents? Finding it more and more difficult to find quality competition, Saperstein contacted basketball expert Louis “Red” Klotz to develop a team to oppose the Globetrotters. Klotz developed teams that would become known as the Washington Generals, Boston Shamrocks, Baltimore Rockets, New York Nationals, Atlantic City Seagulls, and the New Jersey Reds.
Did you know that the Globetrotters were actually the first sports attraction to play under the lights at Wrigley Field? In 1954, Saperstein arranged for portable lights to be brought in and used for a night game.
Did you know that in 1954, battling factions in Peru halted their civil war for four days so the Globetrotters could play in Peru? When the team’s plane left the country, the war resumed.
Did you know that in 1968, the Harlem Globetrotters made their Harlem debut? Forty-one years after making their debut in Hinckley, IL, the team finally played in Harlem.
Did you know that in 1993, Mannie Jackson became the first African-American to own a sports/ entertainment organization with his purchase of the Globetrotters?
Did you know that The Harlem Globetrotters cartoon was the first Saturday morning cartoon to feature African-American characters? The show ran on CBS from September 1970 through May 1973. The Globetrotters have appeared in several other television shows and movies, including The Go-Go- Globetrotters, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, The Super Globetrotters, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, and Futurama.
Did you know that five Pistons have played for the Globetrotters? Cedric Ceballos, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, Walter Dukes, Tremaine Fowlkes, and Oliver Miller have all donned the red, white, and blue of both the Pistons and Globetrotters.
Did you know that the Globetrotters have had 36 players from Michigan high schools or colleges? Sixteen players have gone straight from Michigan high schools to the Globetrotters, while 20 Globetrotters played in colleges in Michigan. Included in those lists are four players from Miller H.S., three each from Cass Tech and Northern H.S. Seven players have matriculated from Michigan State, four players from Detroit Mercy, and four from Wayne State University.
Did you know that the Globetrotters have played in and won more games than any other professional sports team? The club has played in over 22,500 games. The team is on pace to win its 22,000th game on February 26 in Hartford. Coincidentally, they have never lost to the New York Generals in over 8,000 games.