They might be the sports team Krusty the Clown hates more than any other, but the Harlem Globetrotters are celebrating the 93rd anniversary of their first-ever game, which took place on January 7, 1927.
The famous basketball exhibitionists were formed all the way back in 1926 when a group of former basketball players from Wendell Phillips High School came together and took the Midwest region of the USA by storm. The team became known as the Savoy Big Five before eventually becoming the Harlem Globetrotters that we know today in 1928.
The ball tricks, dribbling and wild shots that became synonymous with their style didn’t become evident until the late 1930s, but since then they have entertained the world over, becoming arguably the most famous basketball team of all time, even if they’ve moved completely away from the competitive sport they originated in.
Their eccentricities originated in 1939 after leading an opponent 112 to just five. With the result cemented, the Globetrotters started to entertain the crowd, and this became a staple in the matches in which they possessed a seemingly unattainable lead.
In 1940, as a professional outfit, the Globetrotters won their first World Basketball Championship, defeating the Chicago Bruins. In 1948 and 1949, they also defeated the World Champion Minneapolis Lakers of the then-embryonic NBA, which had been founded in 1946.
Bet you’ll never guess where the Harlem Globetrotters were founded? That’s right. Chicago, Illinois. It was businessman Abe Saperstein - also from the Windy City - who provided them with their world-famous title, believing that Harlem would attach it to African-American identity.
By their own account they have entertained close to 150 million fans across the... well, globe, through 123 countries and territories. They are said to conduct around 400 live events each year. Incredibly, the Globetrotters wouldn’t actually play a game in Harlem until more than 40 years into their existence, in 1968.
Politician and diplomat Henry Kissinger was their first ever honorary member way back at the height of their popularity in 1976, and yes, like Kissinger, they have featured in both The Simpsons (with Krusty foolish backing the Generals over the Globetrotters) and Futurama. And if you thought they were deserving of their own cartoon, you are damn right. Hanna-Barbera - the animation studio responsible for The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear produced the eponymous programme which ran in the early 1970s, featuring a voice provided by Scatman Crowthers.
Other one-time members include legendary comedian Bob Hope, and two Popes. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who supported the Harlem Globetrotters amidst criticism as to how they were provoking certain imagery of the African-American community in the States, can count himself in the club also, as can the late Nelson Mandela, and also Whoopi Goldberg.
The legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who still holds the record for most career points scored in the NBA (38,387) was offered a ball-busting $1 million to play for them before being drafted (first pick) in 1969. Abdul-Jabbar actually ended their 24-year, 8,829-game winning streak in 1995, leading a team to a 91-85 victory. Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain (who claimed to have slept with roughly 20,000 women) was part of a historic Soviet Union tour, playing a full season with the Globetrotters in 1958-59 before becoming the NBA’s highest-paid player with the Warriors.
Their own official website describes them as “worldwide icons, synonymous with family entertainment and great basketball skills. The Globetrotters represent 90-plus years of breaking down barriers, acts of goodwill and a commitment to fans that goes beyond the game.”
Globetrotters currently hold 21 world records, six set on Guinness World Record Day in November 2019, including the most bounced basketball figure-eight moves blindfolded in one minute (63) and the furthest under the legs basketball shot (19.16 m / 62 ft 10.38 in). In 2000, Michael ‘Wild Thing’ Wilson set a world record that still stands today by dunking on a 12-foot hoop. Now that’s some serious air time.
In total, close to 750 men and women have played for the Harlem Globetrotters, which is today comprised of players such as Carlos ‘Dizzy’ English, Nathaniel ‘Big Easy’ Lofton and Craig ‘Hi-Rise’ Hinton.
In addition, every year ahead of the official NBA draft, the Globetrotters select global figures who they think best articulate the ethos of their basketball style. This has extended to the football world, with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Paul Pogba inducted (though the latter probably not on his Manchester United form).
So here’s to the Harlem Globetrotters. Here’s to the next 90-odd years. And remember, never back the Generals against them.