January 7, 2013 - Harlem Globetrotters Day

Can you imagine professional basketball without Kobe, Le Bron, Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain? No Shaq or Magic or Kareem? I could go on and on naming great basketball players of the past and present—those who just happen to be black—and you would wonder what the sport would be like without them. But for decades pro basketball was “whites only”! The color barrier was finally lifted in 1950.

Waaaaayyyy back on this date in 1927, when blacks weren't allowed on pro teams, the Harlem Globetrotters—a team made up of black players—made their debut.

A short, Jewish guy from Chicago named Abe Saperstein was the owner and coach of the team. He decided to capitalize on the fact that his team was made up of black men and chose a name that would be recognized as having roots in the African-American community; Harlem is the name of a famous “Negro” neighborhood that was undergoing a grand Renaissance in the 1920s—an explosion of art and poetry and music by black artists. It wasn't until the late 1960s that the Harlem Globetrotters actually played a game in Harlem!

Saperstein hand-sewed uniforms for his new team all by himself. He chose to make patriotic red-white-and-blue uniforms, and he emblazoned them with the words “New York” (even though the team members were in and from Chicago). Saperstein's dad was a tailor, so we can guess that Saperstein might have learned how to sew as a kid.

So now he had a team, a cool name, and flashy uniforms. Now what? Saperstein had to work hard to book games for his team. He acted as, not just coach and owner, but also manager and publicist. Saperstein even occasionally acted as a substitute player!

That first game was played in Hinckley, Illinois, and the team as a whole was paid just $75. None of my sources state whether or not the Globetrotters won that first game, but they probably did since they won 101 out of 117 games in the first “season.” Many people didn't know a thing about basketball (which was invented a mere 36 years before the Globetrotters' debut) until the Globetrotters came to town, so the team may have added to the game's popularity.
Take a peek at this video
of a Globetrotter's antics.

In 1939 the Globetrotters began to add “silly antics”: ball-handling tricks, trick shots, and comedic clowning on court. The crowds LOVED the antics, and the team became more sought-out and popular. Still, Saperstein asked the team to add in the comedy and tricks only when the Globetrotters had a large lead. But that might have been pretty often, since the Globetrotters won a LOT—supposedly they had a 2,495-game winning streak until they had a loss in 1971, and then they supposedly had a 8,829-game winning streak until 1995! With this many victories, it's easier to just list the rare defeats!

The Globetrotters' overall record is 22,000 wins to 345 losses. That means that they win more than 98% of the time!

Over the years, the Harlem Globetrotters have played B-ball in more than 115 countries, in front of more than 120 million fans. Several movies and TV shows have been made about the team. The team is part-entertainment / part-sport, so it is appropriate that the team was honored by an induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame AND ALSO has its own star on the Hollywood Walk to Fame!

Also on this date:

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