The History of the Harlem Globetrotters

When you hear that unforgettable Harlem Globetrotter theme, images of spinning balls, high flying slam dunks, and amazing tricks come to mind. The Globetrotters have played in over 115 countries and won over 20,000 games with only 332 losses. They have played more games than any other team in history. And today, January 7th is National Harlem Globetrotters day. And bonus, they are coming into town and playing in Rochester Hills this month. Let’s learn a little about the history of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The Harlem Globetrotters were started in 1926 by Abe Saperstein. According to archive.pov.org (PBS), The original name of the team was “Savory Big Five”. Their first game was played on January 7th, 1927.

They wore New York jerseys so that they appeared to be from New York. Savory Big Five changed their name to “Saperstein’s New York Globetrotters”. Then to the “Harlem New York Globetrotters”. And finally just the “Harlem Globetrotters”. They did not actually play a game in Harlem until 1968.

By 1936 the Harlem Globetrotters had played over 1000 games. An amazing feat as games were hard to find for an all-black team in a “white-only” professional environment of the time. They would play in their first professional tournament in 1939. They lost to the New York Renaissance but returned the next year to dominate the tournament.

The domination was so bad that the score was 112 to 5. The crowd got bored so the Globetrotters started a little of their staple antics. The crowd loved the silly play. Saperstein loved it but said only to do it with a substantial lead.

Harlem Globetrotters Entertainment

The Globetrotters would go on to continue playing professional games against “professional teams” all the way to 1950. NBA was formed in 1950 and they began to draft black players into the league. It became harder for the Globetrotters to keep a more competitive edge.

Abe Saperstein passed away in 1966. By that time The Harlem Globetrotters had played 8,945 games in over 1,200 cities. They also had played in more than 82 countries. Their professional image began to decline while their entertainment image thrived.

In 1970 this image of entertainment only increased more as they appeared on television. In 1970 a Harlem Globetrotter cartoon was made. And they also appeared on episodes of Scooby Doo. President Gerald Ford called them “America’s Ambassadors of Good Will”.

By the 1980s, they got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and had a permanent exhibit added to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American Social History to honor them.

Globetrotters added Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard in 1985, the first woman of the Globetrotters.

To this day, the Harlem Globetrotters continue to entertain and have even taken to competing in more professional games. They’ve scheduled games against college teams and pick-up teams.

I mentioned they would be in town on January 21st (oooh my birthday!) and January 22nd in Rochester Hills!