February 09, 2017
By Amanda Scurlock
Many people know the Harlem Globetrotters for their entertaining tricks and their world record-breaking shots. Behind their comedic games are a rich past of talented, competitive players, historic games, and global popularity.
For 91 years, the Harlem Globetrotters’ legacy lives, bringing joy to the world through basketball.
The Globetrotters started in Chicago as a group called the “Savoy Big Five.” Tommy Brokens of the Big Five branched off to create the Globetrotters. With the help of Abe Saperstein, the Globetrotters began touring in cities outside of Illinois.
In the mid 1940’s, the franchise highlighted talents, Marques Haynes and Reece “Goose” Tatum. Haynes expert ball handling and dribbling tricks along with Tatum’s showmanship complemented the team’s athletic superiority in games.
Although going through segregation and blatant racism, the Harlem Globetrotters won the hearts of African Americans and white Americans alike with their comedic and athletic way of earning wins.
They took on the World champion Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 and 1949; the Globetrotters won both matches. These games aided in the integration of basketball.
Harlem also fostered more interest in the NBA, as multitudes of more fans would go see Globetrotters games than other teams. In 1950, the Globetrotters went on their first trek oversees to Portugal. It was the same year that Harlem player Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton signed a contract with the New York Knicks, he was the first African American to sign a NBA contract.
The Globetrotters played against the College All-Stars in a 17-game series called the World Series of Basketball. The team played the game with minimal tricks in order to beat the top college players in the United States. The Rose Bowl and Madison Square Garden were some of the many venues that Globetrotters games took place.
International travel heightened the knowledge and popularity of basketball as well as improved the United States’ image to other countries. Playing a game in Buenos Aires healed America’s relationship with Argentina. Olympian Jesse Owens returned to Berlin along with the Globetrotters.
The Globetrotters continued to break barriers when Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard became the first woman to play for the team. Mannie Jackson, a former Globetrotter, became the first African-American to own a men’s pro sports/entertainment franchise by buying the team. In 2002, the Harlem Globetrotters became inductees to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Globetrotter legacy still lives on with members on the team making World records, participating in NBA All-Star Weekend and competing in the TV series “The Amazing Race.” One of the current players on the Globetrotters is Zeus McClurkin, a Columbus, Ohio native who played for the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team and earned a master’s degree from Franklin University.
Through the Globetrotters, McClurkin got a chance to visit and play basketball in Israel.
“[I] got a chance to walk the streets of Jerusalem,” he said. “The Holy Land was amazing.”
McClurkin holds the World record for the most basketball slam dunks in one minute (16) and the most bounced three-pointers in one minute (5).
“To me, the Globetrotters embody who I am naturally as a person; I’m a people person and always want to entertain people and interact with the crowd,”McClurkin said. “I’m also a minister at my church so I want to make someone have a brighter day after coming in contact with me wherever I am.”