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Meadowlark Lemon

A History Of The Harlem Globetrotters

The Harlem Globetrotters came into being in the 1920s thanks to a young entrepreneur named Abe Saperstein, who had grown up watching black boys play basketball in the streets of Chicago. Their pure talent impressed Saperstein, and he envisioned a pro team for black players. At the time, they weren't allowed to play on the all-white professional teams. Though only five-foot-three, Saperstein had been a basketball star himself. In 1926, he pulled together a team called the Savoy Big Five because they played their games in Chicago's Savoy Ballroom.

In the early days of basketball, the professional teams didn't have home courts. They just traveled around, or "barnstormed." In 1927, Saperstein decided to take his team on the road, too. He called them the Harlem Globetrotters: Harlem to let people know they were black; globetrotters so they would think the team had traveled the world.

The Globetrotters played their first game in January 1927 in Hinckley, Illinois. The team spent the season traveling around in a Model T Ford, just five players and coach Saperstein. They barely made enough money to eat and spent many nights in the car. Playing night after night, the five players got tired; they had no substitutes. The ball-handling routines that made the Globetrotters famous grew out of a need to rest players. If one player showed off with the ball, the others could rest. The team also relied on showmanship to keep the scores down and the crowds from growing bored. In 1940, the team beat the Chicago Bruins at the World Tournament, winning the national pro title.

In 1950, Saperstein booked a tour to Western Europe and North Africa, making the team live up to its name. They garnered rave reviews and in 1952 played for the pope. Back home in the United States, they faced racial discrimination. While on the road in the South, restaurants refused to serve them. In many cities, they had to play two games in a day—one for the white crowd, and one for the black. Despite the hardships, the Globe-trotters endured.

More than 75 years have passed since the Globetrotters first set out in their Model T. To this day, they continue to travel around the world lighting up the hearts of the young and old alike.

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