History of the Harlem Globetrotters Part 1

About the history of the famous basketball team the Harlem Globetrotters.


By combining athletic skill and vaudeville, the Harlem Globetrotters can be credited with making the game of basketball an international sport. Over the last 50 years, nearly 100 million people in over 90 countries have seen the Trotters win 98% of the approximately 12,000 games they've played.

Although strictly a show-biz act today, with the referees and the ersatz opponents in on the joke, the Trotters were, at one time, a serious barnstorming team. In 1926, a 5 ft. 3 in. British immigrant named Abe Saperstein recruited five black ballplayers from the Chicago slums and got them two games a week at the Savoy Ballroom on Chicago's South Side. Saperstein became the owner, coach, chauffeur, and sixth man on the "Savoy Five."

When the dance hall failed and became a roller rink, the team lost its home court and took to barnstorming. Basketball wasn't a big attraction at the time, especially with a team of black players barred from professional competition because of racial prejudice. Saperstein dubbed them the Harlem Globetrotters to denote their complexions while suggesting that they'd been around more than the truth justified. Actually, not one of them had ever set foot in Harlem, let alone outside the U.S.

The early years, especially during the Depression, were bleak. A typical night's work would net less than $10, which would be split nine ways. The Trotters would travel practically anywhere to play anyone, but they were so skilled that they soon ran out of opponents. To stimulate interest, they began to add the comedy routines, or "reems," that would become their trademark.

They would hide the ball under their jerseys. They would dribble into the stands and start selling concessions during a game. Using a basketball, they would expertly charade other sports. An opponent shooting a free throw would find a Trotter holding his jersey or emptying a bucket of water on his head. Accused of a foul, a Trotter would leap into a referee's arms like a naughty boy or fall onto his knees and beg for mercy. The basketball would be moving, throughout all this, with dazzling speed, punctuated by the running comedy patter of the players.

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