Before the '92 Dream Team became the international ambassadors of basketball,the Harlem Globetrotters were the black ambassadors of basketball in America.
“The Globetrotters was not just a great barnstorming team; they were a sociology class on wheels,bringing black hoops and black culture to a hundred … towns that had seen neither,” wrote author Ben Green.
In “Spinning the Globe: The Rise,Fall,and Return to Greatness of the Harlem
Globetrotters,” Green,details the legacy of the world-renown Globetrotters. The book includes a forward by Bill Cosby,who thanks the team for helping him get his first TV role because the team had broken racial barriers.
Green's historical look at the Globetrotters flows naturally and isn't just for sports fans. This historical account eloquently explains the perseverance of the Globetrotters despite all obstacles. Readers will feel like they are riding in the back of owner and coach Abe Saperstein's Model T with the Globetrotters traveling from game to game.
Green's research doesn't just focus on the goodwill the team generated abroad or its on- court antics. He also presents the behind-the-scenes story of who formed the Harlem Globetrotters,how the team fell on hard times financially and the team's return to stability after its purchase by former Globetrotter Mannie Jackson in 1993.
Green begins the Globetrotters' tale on the night “they were poised on the brink of becoming a world wide phenomenon.” On Jan. 1,1950,the Harlem Globetrotters played at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. And from that day on,the Globetrotters were stars.
From that night,Green goes back to the early years,“from touring small obscure towns,where no hotel would house them or no restaurant would feed them and play wherever they could organize a game.” No matter the troubles,the Globetrotters always entertained their fans. For some of those fans,the Globetrotters were the first black professional athletes they had seen.
But the team's story has its roots in the late 1920s during the height of legal segregation. Kept out of Major League Baseball,black players formed “barnstorming leagues” that traveled and played local teams for money.
The popularity of that league lead to the formation of barnstorming basketball leagues. An all-black eight-member Chicago team was one of them. Three of its members,William Watson,Inman Jackson and Lester Johnson,formed the nucleus of the first Globetrotters team.
Because the level of competition from the local teams was generally low,the Globetrotters began to showboat during their games. Saperstein told the players to continue to showboat as long as they had a safe lead.
Over time,the team incorporated trick shots,flashy passes,eye-fooling dribbling and its signature move,“the magic circle.” Players would “form a circle around the foul line and start passing a ball,whipping it behind their backs,between their legs,faster and more expertly than these fans have ever seen,” Green wrote.
As the Globetrotters continued to tour,they found it hard to find competition in each city,so the Washington Generals,founded in 1953,became permanent opponents. The Generals' only win against the Globetrotters came in 1971.
Shortly after the end of World War II,the Globetrotters expanded their tours,entertaining fans from Europe to South America,Asia and South Africa.
Green's research also shows parallels between the Globetrotters' accomplishments and changes in race relations in the United States.
On Feb. 19,1948,at the Chicago Stadium,the Globetrotters took part in what has been called one of the most memorable basketball games of all time. The Globetrotters won on a buzzer-beating shot,to edge the Minneapolis (now Los Angeles) Lakers by two points,61-59. The teams played again several months later,with the Globetrotters wining again 49-45.
“Ironically,the Globetrotters' two victories over the Lakers may have been the final wedge to break down the Jim Crow barriers in professional ball,” Green wrote.
Green,has written both fiction and other nonfiction books,including “Before His Time,” “The Soldier of Fortune Murders” and “Finest Kind.” He presents a view of the Harlem Globetrotters different from the flashy passes and the familiar red,white and blue uniforms. He introduces a group of men and women (the team's first female member, Lynette Woodard,in the 1980s),who though basketball,helped to bridge not just the United States,but the world.