Harlem Globetrotter’s Day takes place annually on 7 January. The Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team. They combine athleticism, theater, and comedy in their style of play. Over the years they have played more than 26,000 exhibition games in 123 countries and territories. The team’s signature song is Brother Bones’ whistled version of “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Their mascot is a globe named Globie. The team plays over 450 live events worldwide each year. The team is currently owned by Herschend Family Entertainment The executive offices for the team are located in suburban Atlanta.
The Globetrotters originated on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, in the 1920s, where all the original players were raised. The Globetrotters began as the Savoy Big Five, on 7 January 1928, and became one of the premier attractions of the Savoy Ballroom playing exhibitions before dances. In 1928, several players left the team in a dispute. That autumn, several of the players, led by Tommy Brookins, formed a team called the “Globe Trotters” and toured Southern Illinois that spring. Abe Saperstein became involved with the team as its manager and promoter. By 1929, Saperstein was touring Illinois and Iowa with his basketball team called the “New York Harlem Globe Trotters”. Saperstein selected Harlem, New York, New York, as their home city since Harlem was considered the center of African-American culture at the time and an out-of-town team name would give the team more of a mystique.
The Globetrotters did not play in Harlem until 1968, four decades after the team’s formation. The Globetrotters were perennial participants in the World Professional Basketball Tournament, winning it in 1940. In a heavily attended matchup a few years later, the 1948 Globetrotters–Lakers game, the Globetrotters made headlines when they beat one of the best white basketball teams in the country, the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers). Once one of the most famous teams in the country, the Globetrotters were eventually eclipsed by the rise of the National Basketball Association, particularly when NBA teams began fielding African-American players in the 1950’s. In 1950, Harlem Globetrotter Chuck Cooper became the first black player to be drafted in the NBA by Boston and teammate Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton became the first African-American player to sign an NBA contract when the New York Knicks purchased his contract from the Globetrotters.
The Globetrotters gradually worked comic routines into their act—a direction the team has credited to Reece “Goose” Tatum, who joined in 1941—and eventually became known more for entertainment than sport. The Globetrotters’ acts often feature incredible coordination and skillful handling of one or more basketballs, such as passing or juggling balls between players, balancing or spinning balls on their fingertips, and making unusually difficult shots. In 1952, the Globetrotters invited Louis “Red” Klotz to create a team to accompany them on their tours. This team, the Washington Generals (who also played under various other names), became the Globetrotters’ primary opponents. The Generals are effectively stooges for the Globetrotters, with the Globetrotters handily defeating them in thousands of games. However the Globetrotters were once defeated by the Washington Generals,
In 1959, the Globetrotters played nine games in Moscow after Saperstein received an invitation from Vasily Gricorevich, the director of Lenin Central Stadium. The team, which included Wilt Chamberlain, was welcomed enthusiastically by spectators and authorities; they met Premier Nikita Khrushchev and received the Athletic Order of Lenin medal. For the games The Globetrotters brought their own opponent the San Francisco Chinese Basketeers.
Many famous basketball players have played for the Globetrotters. Greats such as “Wee” Willie Gardner, Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton later went on to join the NBA. The Globetrotters signed their first female player, Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard, in 1985. The Globetrotters have featured thirteen female players in their history. Baseball Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson, and Ferguson Jenkins also played for the team at one time or another. Because nearly all of the team’s players have historically been African American, and as a result of the buffoonery involved in many of the Globetrotters’ skits, they drew some criticism during the Civil Rights era. The players were accused by some civil-rights advocates of “Tomming for Abe”, a reference to Uncle Tom and Jewish owner Abe Saperstein. However, prominent civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (who would later be named an Honorary Globetrotter) came to their defense by stating, “I think they’ve been a positive influence… They did not show blacks as stupid. On the contrary, they were shown as superior.” In 1995, Orlando Antigua became the first Hispanic player on the team. He was the first non-black player on the Globetrotters’ roster since Bob Karstens played with the squad in 1942–43.
As of 2007, the Globetrotters conducted an annual “draft” a few days before the NBA draft, in which they select players they feel fit the mold of a Globetrotter. Being drafted by the Globetrotters does not guarantee a spot on the team, although several drafted players have gone on to become Globetrotters: Anthony “Ant” Atkinson (2007), Brent Petway (2007), William “Bull” Bullard (2008), Tay “Firefly” Fisher (2008), Charlie Coley III (2009), Paul “Tiny” Sturgess (2011), Jacob “Hops” Tucker (2011), Darnell “Spider” Wilks (2011), Bryan “B-Nice” Narcisse (2012), Tyrone Davis (2013), Corey “Thunder” Law (2013), Tyler “Iceman” Inman (2014) Devan “Beast” Douglas (2016) and AJ “Money” Merriweather. Other notable draft picks by the Globetrotters include: Sun Mingming (2007), Patrick Ewing, Jr. (2008), Sonny Weems (2008), Taylor Griffin (2009), Tim Howard (2009), Mark Titus (2010), Lionel Messi (2011), Andrew Goudelock (2011), Usain Bolt (2012), Mariano Rivera (2013), Brittney Griner (2013), Johnny Manziel (2014), Landon Donovan (2014), Mo’ne Davis (2015), Dude Perfect (2015), Neymar (2016), Missy Franklin (2016), Jordan Spieth (2016), Craig Sager (2016), Gal Gadot (2017), Aaron Judge (2017), Tim Tebow (2017) Paul Pogba (2018), and Joseph Kilgore (2018