Since the late 1920s the legendary Harlem Globetrotters have thrilled audiences with their mix of slapstick comedy and genuine athleticism—to the point that they might very well be the most famous basketball team in the world. This Saturday, March 4, they’ll bring their unique show to Northlands Coliseum and to prepare for the fun here are eight facts you may not have known about them.
1) They weren’t originally from Harlem
The team that eventually became the Globetrotters actually got their start in Chicago. It all began with a team called the Savoy Big Five who put on exhibition matches at the Savoy Ballroom when it opened in 1927. A year later, members from that team quit and formed the “Globe Trotters”. They toured Illinois throughout the year before joining up with their manager, Abe Saperstein, who decided the team should hail from what was then considered the centre of African-American culture—Harlem, New York. Amazingly, the team wouldn’t actually play in Harlem until 1968, nearly 40 years after claiming the famous neighbourhood as their home base.
2) There were two forgotten movies made about them
While some folks might remember a TV movie we’ll be discussing below, few people are aware that the Globetrotters were also featured in The Harlem Globetrotters, released by Columbia Pictures in 1951. Despite the fact that it was popular enough to warrant a 1954 sequel called Go, Man, Go! (currently available on DVD), it has never been released on home video and wasn’t shown on television until Turner Classic Movies finally aired it in 2012. Today, the first film is most significant for co-staring Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American performer to ever be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award (Carmen Jones, 1955), while the sequel featured a young Sidney Poitier in only his fourth major film role.
3) They had three different Saturday morning TV shows in the 1970s
It’s no secret that kids love the Globetrotters more than anyone, so it made sense that networks jumped at the chance to turn them into Saturday morning entertainment (back when that was the one morning specifically designated by the networks for the under-12 set). The first attempt came with Harlem Globetrotters, which ran on CBS from 1970 to 1973. Produced by Hanna-Barbara, the famous cartoon studio behind Scooby-Doo, the series was followed up six years later with The Super Globetrotters on NBC, which featured the players with new super powers. In between the two animated series, CBS aired The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, a live action variety show starring their 1974 roster.
4) They played on the world’s most famous deserted island
In 1978, NBC aired Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, a TV movie sequel to the beloved 1960s TV show that saw the castaways finally return home after 15 years on the island (only—in a twist—to end up right back there by the end). It was such a hit that The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (where they were rescued again, only to come back and turn the island into a resort) was made a year later. Despite the two films satisfying everyone’s curiosity about whatever happened to the castaways, a third film was put into production and that’s where things got a bit strange. 1981’s The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island is considered by many TV fans to be one of the most goofball concepts to ever make it on the air. The film is just too weird to synopsize, but it does climax with the Globetrotters playing basketball against a team of evil robots for ownership of the island (which actually sounds a bit like the plot of Space Jam when you think about it).
5) They were on Wide World of Sports 15 times in 18 years
Over the course of its 37 seasons, ABC’s Wide World of Sports succeeded in showcasing a lot of unique athletic programing that went beyond the usual football and baseball found on American television at the time. In 1973 the series aired the first fully televised Globetrotters match and it proved to be such a ratings hit they made it a nearly annual event, with 14 more games televised until the last one in 1991.
6) Wilt Chamberlain was a Globetrotter
Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain is fairly regarded as one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived. He so dominated the sport between 1959 and 1973 that he was able to set NBA records that still stand four decades later. Because of this, it’s easy to forget that his professional career actually began with the Harlem Globetrotters after an NBA rule stopped him from joining the league until a year after he dropped out of college in 1958. Chamberlain enjoyed the experience of being a Globetrotter so much that even after he made it into the NBA, he would still occasionally play for the Globetrotters in the off-season. In 2000 he became the first Globetrotter to have his jersey (13) permanently retired.
7) The first female Globetrotter joined the team in 1985
After winning the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Lynette Woodard became the first female Globetrotter–making her the first woman to ever play on a men’s professional basketball team. Since then women have played an important part of the team all the way to today.
8) They haven’t won every game they played
While a lot of a present-day Globetrotter game is pre-planned, the actual outcomes of the games are not guaranteed. For much of the team’s history their most famous opponents were the Washington Generals, who famously lost over 13,000 times over the course of their rivalry. As a rule, the Generals weren’t allowed to mount any serious defence against the Globetrotters, but when they got the ball the game became 100% real. Thanks to this they managed to eke out at least six victories over the years. The last time it happened was in 1971 (during a season where the opposing team played under a series of different names—in this case the New Jersey Reds), when the Globetrotters lost track of the actual score and Globie legend Meadowlark Lemon missed a game winning shot at the last second.
Now that your head is filled with fun Harlem Globetrotter facts, don’t miss your chance to see them in person this Saturday at Northlands Coliseum! Tickets are still available and it’s guaranteed to be a blast for all ages.