Stuff you didn’t know about the world’s most famous basketball team.
Savoy Big Five
In late 1926, Abe Saperstein took over as coach of a touring African-American team in Chicago called the Savoy Big Five (they played their games at the Savoy Ballroom). Saperstein renamed them the Harlem Globetrotters because all the players were African-American (Harlem being a predominantly African-American neighborhood).
The original lineup for the team’s first game in January 1927: “Toots” Wright, “Fat” Long, “Kid” Oliver, “Runt” Pullins, and Andy Washington.
Ball Tricks and Comic Routines
The team played hundreds of games a year and got so good that they played in a national championship in 1939 against another independent team, the New York Renaissance. The Globetrotters lost, but that same year they discovered that the crowd liked it when they did ball tricks and comic routines. Saperstein told them to do as much of that as possible…provided they’d already established a comfortable lead.
Hey, sports fans: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Sports Spectacular is packed with impressive and record-breaking sports and games articles.
Over the years, a few famous athletes have played for the Globetrotters. Wilt Chamberlain played for one year, between college and joining the NBA. Future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson played in the 1950s, before his baseball career. And NBA great Magic Johnson played in a single game.
Eight famous people have been named honorary Globetrotters: Bob Hope, Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Jesse Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Pope John Paul II, and the only actual basketball player on the list, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Shortest and Tallest
Shortest Globetrotter ever: 5’2” Jonte “Too Tall” Hall. Tallest Globetrotter ever: 7’8” Paul “Tiny” Sturgess.
New York Nationals
The Globetrotters travel with a second team, who almost inevitably loses. This has been a part of the Globetrotters experience since 1952, when Saperstein asked Philadelphia Sphas owner Red Klotz to take his Eastern Basketball League team on the road. They were renamed the Washington Generals and served as a “straight man” to the Globetrotters antics, directed to attempt to play a serious game of basketball. Sometimes the Generals changed their name and uniforms to become the “Boston Shamrocks,” “Baltimore Rockets,” “Atlantic City Seagulls,” and “New Jersey Reds,” but it was always the same team. In 1995, the Generals name was retired. The patsy team is now called the New York Nationals.
But the games are real. The Generals (or whatever they were calling themselves at the time) have beat the Globetrotters six times. In 1971, the Globetrotters lost track of a huge lead and started doing their usual tricks. The Generals ran up the score, and won the game on a buzzer-beater shot. Klotz said the crowd looked “like we’d just killed Santa Claus.”
Nine women have played for the Globetrotters. The first, in 1985, was Lynette Woodard, who’d just won a gold medal in the Olympics playing for the U.S. women’s basketball team.