How many of you have ever been to see the Harlem Globetrotters? We went to see them last night for, I think, the fourth time (Paco’s first time) and had a blast as we always do. We just love their fun, family-oriented show and all their silly antics. If you’ve ever been to see them, you know what I’m talking about. From hilarious skits and dances to climbing on top of the basket to pulling people from the audience to dance with them, the Harlem Globetrotters put on an extremely entertaining show.
But did you know that not only have the Harlem Globetrotters been playing basketball for over 90 years, they were also pivotal in breaking down racial barriers and showing the world that African-American athletes could excel at professional-level sports?
The Harlem Globetrotters were founded by Abe Saperstein in 1926. My own parents recall seeing them as children in the 1940s. In fact, it was a series of victories in the 1940s, including winning the World Basketball Championship in 1940 and defeating the World Champion Minneapolis Lakers in both 1948 and 1949 that hastened the integration of the NBA. The first African-American basketball player to sign an NBA contract was Globetrotter Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton who joined the New York Knicks in 1950.
In addition to being amazing basketball players, the Harlem Globetrotters also earned the moniker, “Ambassadors of Goodwill,” for their legacy of philanthropy, breaking down barriers, and commitment to their fans. The Globetrotters are also remarkable in that men and women play together on the team, with the first female player, Lynette Woodward, joining the team in 1985. The Harlem Globetrotters achieved another first when one of their former players, Mannie Jackson, became the first African-American to own a major international sports and entertainment organization, purchasing the team in 1993.
I’m one of those geeks who loves to go online and read people’s bios, and I was surprised to find that the vast majority of Globetrotters have college degrees and many have professional careers outside of playing basketball. When you go up to them after the game to take a picture or get a ball signed, the Globetrotters are unfailingly polite and patient with even the littlest of their fans. We went up to our own personal favorite player, Cheese, and when I thanked him after posing for a picture with us, I was surprised to hear him say, “God bless you.” Seeing all those kids lining up to meet them, I couldn’t help but think what powerful role models these men and women are, especially for the African-American community.
As we wrap up Black History Month, I thought it would be fun for you all to learn just a little bit about the Harlem Globetrotters, who have clearly had a huge impact on generations of people from diverse backgrounds. And if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend you go see them!