The Harlem Globetrotters Literally Changed the Game Nearly 90 Years Ago
On January 7, 1927, the game of basketball was forever altered when the Harlem Globetrotters played their first game. Known as an “exhibition” team, their unique style of play incorporates comedy and theater into a uniquely American creation, one that has allowed the entity to remain beloved for more than nine decades. They rose out of the streets of South Chicago, but were named after the capital of African-American culture, Harlem and the first line-up was comprised of Walter “Toots” Wright, Byron “Fat” Long, Willis “Kid” Oliver, Andy Washington and Al “Runt” Pullins. After playing their first game in Hinckley, Illinois, the Globetrotters have gone on to tour the world, performing in three separate teams and amassing a roster that includes Wilt Chamberlain, the recently passed Meadowlark Lemon, Connie Hawkins, Nat Clifton, and dozens of others who became icons for Black Americans and their international acclaim belies the fact that they lost their very first game, way back when. However, they went on to win 101 of the 117 games in their virgin season, and they became de facto American ambassadors for countries like Austria, Djibouti, the Netherlands, Russia, and more.
The Harlem Globetrotters as a concept and team was founded by Abe Saperstein during a time when only Whites could play on professionally recognized basketball teams. According to History.com, the team didn’t start incorporating the entertaining antics they became known for until 1939, a decision that helped land them a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a permanent installation at the Smithsonian. They have entertained more than 100-million fans over the years, but perhaps their most lasting legacy remains their integrating the game of basketball a full twenty years before the National Basketball Association played its inaugural season. Although video footage of their 1927 debut isn’t available, vintage footage from a 1941 game is thoroughly entertaining.