Sports, United States

How the Harlem Globetrotters Changed the World

You may know them from their high intensity exhibition basketball games or from the children’s television show, Scooby Doo. The Scooby Doo franchise collaborated with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1972 with not one but two episodes of The New Scooby Doo Movies. One of the most famous and influential basketball teams, known as The Harlem Globetrotters, famous for their stunning moves and enthusiastic games had to face adversity to get to gain the popularity and respect the team has now. Just like all other great things, they had to start somewhere and along the way came the people disliking what they do. The team fought through the adversity to be able to become one of the best basketball teams of all time. The Harlem Globetrotters a basketball team with a vast history dating back the early 1930’s, which had racial conflicts arise, and they helped the NBA integrate and become an inter-racial league.

The team, now known as the Harlem Globetrotters, was created with the name Savoy Big Five, playing out of Chicago. The team was created by Abe Saperstein in the 1920’s. A huge development of this time was The Harlem Renaissance in the mid 1920’s. The Harlem Renaissance was when neighborhoods in New York were being transformed by African-American people. Many consider it the golden age in their culture for thing such as art and or theater. The owner Abe Saperstein had renamed the team to the Harlem Globetrotters which was formerly known as  the Savoy Big Five as he figured he could appeal to more people around the world. The owner could appeal to these international fans, as New York is a well-known city compared to Chicago during this time period. He chose Harlem specifically as the African-American culture was becoming more and more accepted into society. He could support these brave people who started an artistic outbreak in New York after many white folks were very upset that African-Americans were moving into their primarily white neighborhoods. They began moving into these neighborhoods as the landlords had vacant lots and needed them to be occupied to make money. By the 1940’s, well outside of the Harlem Renaissance era, twenty years had gone by and the Globetrotters had played around 2,000 games and had been  dominating every team they went up against. In the events of dominating, some games got old and those games got very boring, very fast. So one Globetrotter, Inman Jackson, decided to take matters into his own hands. With the game being so boring to the fans, he took the ball and starting taking half-full court shots, finger-rolling the ball and making insane passes to his teammates. The owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, Abe Saperstein, loved the performance so much that he wanted the team to do it every night. It took forty years after creating the team for them to finally play their first ever game in Harlem. The Harlem Globetrotters have played just about 25,000 games in the team’s lifespan and won  approximately 22,000 of those games. The team is still considered a professional team but all of their games do not count for anything, they are just exhibition matches.

Struggle is something that every great team has to face. The biggest issue for The Harlem Globetrotters and their rise to glory was that the team had consisted of African-Americans. With things such as Jim Crow Laws being present and people believing in segregation, life was difficult for the uprising basketball team. The players had to face very tough situations, such as George Lemon saying that, “Players had to learn to not drink too much.” Due to the fact that during the game there was only water fountains for the white folks. Have you ever ran up and down a basketball court for hours on end, and try to drink little to no water? Even though the players were being treated horribly by society, their love for the sport is what drove them to keep going and continue playing. At one point the discrimination and hatred towards African-Americans was so bad, that the players said that, “We went to a restaurant and they said, ‘We can’t serve you here” and they also had to sleep in the tour bus because the hotel would not grant them access to a room. These players had rough conditions, bathrooms were not sanitary and none of this was healthy for the human body. Still the players pushed their bodies every night to put on a performance for the crowd. “We were treated like great athletes,” but in the United States, “local promoters asked people in the neighborhood if they would take in some of the Globetrotters. It was horrible.’” The players were treated like the star athletes they are but once they returned home they were shunned away and hated upon by their very own.

In 1948 The Harlem Globetrotters were set to play the Minneapolis Lakers. The Minneapolis Lakers would come later to be known as the Los Angeles Lakers. Many people were in attendance of this game, around 17,000 people. The Minneapolis Lakers were one of the best white basketball teams of that time. And The Globetrotters happened to be one of, if not the best all African-American basketball team of that time. In the game it was a very close game with the Lakers leading through the first two quarters but strategical moves from The Globetrotters propelled them to the lead helping them win the game that night. It wasn’t until after the game that the racial implications set in. Team owners from around the country that had heard about the game that night realized somethings. The team owners had realized that the African-American players were just as good as the white players but that they also added a new element to the game of basketball. With all of the tricks and moves that The Harlem Globetrotters pulled they still beat one of the best basketball teams in the country.  After that game Harlem Globetrotter players were being drafted into the NBA, which led team owner Abe Saperstein into a difficult decision. He could make The Harlem Globetrotters compete with the NBA or branch off and he decided it would be best if The Harlem Globetrotters would solely become a touring act.

The Harlem Globetrotters led themselves to make firsts of many things. They helped shape the world today. Without them, the NBA might have never integrated or have not integrated for a while to come. The Globetrotters had a history dating way back to 1926, with the creation of the team and how they became what they are today. Well on their way to becoming the team they are today they had troubles with white people, discriminating and hating against them. Once the players were on the court the people had a whole different respect for the players. The game changer for the NBA and how it is today was the Globetrotter-Laker game of 1948. The game where many believe that, that game is what lead the NBA to integrate whites and blacks onto the same court. If you want to feel and see that great Harlem Globetrotter experience and history go to one of their games next time they are in town.

Article by Bronson Maringer and Wyatt Couch


Works Cited

Marcus, Steven. “Harlem Globetrotters faced racism for years in U.S.” Newsday, 13 Feb. 2010, Staff. “Harlem Renaissance.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,

“1948 Globetrotters-Lakers Game.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Apr. 2017,

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