Famous and infamous, the Harlem Globetrotters were formed on January 30, 1927. Racism can create powerful things beyond emotion, and the Harlem Globetrotters were one of its many creations.
Abe Saperstein took over the team as coach and substitute player in an era where the professional basketball league was whites only. The team he took over was then known as the Savoy Big Five, and was comprised of Walter “Toots” Wright, Byron “Fat” Long, Willis “Kid” Oliver, Andy Washington and Al “Runt” Pullins. Understanding how to market these great players, he decided to name the team after a popular African American neighborhood. He even went through the trouble of sewing their uniforms. Hitting the pavement and doing overtime on the marketing front, Abe coached the Harlem Globetrotters to an impressive 101 out of 117 games first season while touring the country. Even as an amateur basketball team, it was highly impressive.
The showboating Globetrotters that everyone knows and loves didn’t really begin those antics until 1939, and even then, winning games and competitions were their priority. It was in 1948 when they changed NBA history by playing against and beating the Minneapolis Lakers. That beat down, along with the many talented Black players that joined the Harlem Globetrotters since they couldn’t play professionally, led to the NBA lifting its whites only ban. However, the wheels were already in motion, as the Globetrotters proved not only the talents of Black players, but also the international players they competed against. It’s an interesting component to consider since it also took the NBA years to start sourcing international talent–possibly another creation of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Notable NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain started out as a Globetrotter, and did pretty well in the NBA. He is in the Hall of Fame and considered one of the greatest players of all time; he still holds the record for most points in a single basketball contest. Although their fame peaked in the 1970’s, the Globetrotters are still a favorite even with the popularity of leagues like AND1. The Globetrotters have a place in history and get respect based of that alone, which is why they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Still referenced in pop culture of today, they continue to travel the world and dazzle millions internationally. Although the NBA is now a powerhouse multi-billion dollar corporation, the many changes they made to get to that point can be attributed to the work of the Harlem Globetrotters.