The Harlem Globetrotters are a well-known exhibition basketball team bridging both the entertainment and sports genres. Combining athleticism, theater and comedy, they have played and starred in more than 26,000 exhibition games in 122 countries and territories, usually to the tune of Brother Bones's whistled version of "Sweet Georgia Brown," the team's signature song.
According to the details of the team's history, the Globetrotters were organized in 1926, subsequently appearing at Chicago's Savoy Ballroom, which opened in 1927. The original players all grew up on the south side of Chicago, Illinois and attended Wendell Phillips High School. When the Savoy Ballroom opened in November 1927, the team appeared as the Savoy Big Five, a basketball team that played exhibitions before dances. Their first road game was in Hinckley, Illinois on January 7, 1927. In 1928, several of the players left the team in a dispute over bringing back former players and formed a team led by Tommy Brookins called the "Globe Trotters" that toured Southern Illinois that spring. Abe Saperstein became the team's manager and promoter, and by 1929, Saperstein had the Globe Trotters touring Illinois and Iowa. He soon started calling them the "New York Harlem Globe Trotters" since Harlem was considered the center of African-American culture at the time. The name also gave the out-of-town team more mystique. After four decades, in 1968, they shortened the name to the "Harlem Globetrotters" when they played their first game ever in their namesake city, Harlem, New York.
Over the years, the Globetrotters became Good Will ambassadors to the world, playing nine games in 1959 in Moscow after receiving an invitation from Vasily Gricorevich, the director of Lenin Central Stadium. The team at the time included sports legend Wilt Chamberlain, and they were welcomed enthusiastically by spectators and authorities, including Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who realized the Trotters were more show than competition. During their stay, the team receiving the Athletic Order of Lenin medal.
The popularity of the Globetrotters eventually exploded in the Seventies with numerous TV appearances and merchandise collectibles. In 1974, Globetrotters player Meadowlark Lemon presented a ball signed by the team to First Lady Betty Ford. They were perennial participants in the World Professional Basketball Tournament, eclipsed by the rise of the National Basketball Association, particularly when NBA teams began fielding African-American players in the 1950s. Globetrotter Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton became the first African-American player to sign an NBA contract when the New York Knicks purchased his contract from the Globetrotters in 1950. The Globetrotters soon gradually worked comic routines into their act, a direction the team credited to Reece "Goose" Tatum, who had joined in 1941. They eventually became known more for entertainment than sports with acts often featuring incredible coordination and skillful handling of one or more basketballs, such as passing or juggling balls between players, balancing or spinning balls on their fingertips and making unusually difficult shots.
Among the players who have been Globetrotters are NBA greats Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain, Connie "The Hawk" Hawkins, and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton as well as Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon, Sweet Lou Dunbar, Reece "Goose" Tatum, Hubert "Geese" Ausbie and Fred "Curly" Neal, recognizable by his shaven head, was the best dribbler of the team through the 70s and 80s. At the height of their careers, the Globetrotters supplied their own voices in "The Harlem Globetrotters," a Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon, that ran on CBS from September 1970 to May 1973 and later re-ran on NBC as "The Go-Go Globetrotters." They also shared their voices in episodes of the "Scooby Doo" cartoon series. Actor Scatman Crothers provided the voice for Meadowlark Lemon on the show. They also starred on "The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine," a 1974 live-action Saturday morning variety show featuring comedy skits, blackout gags, and educational segments. Joined by Crothers as their fictional manager, Dewey Stevens, they also played themselves on The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, replacing the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in the original script.
In addition to their hundreds of exhibition games, the Globetrotters slowly returned to competitive basketball following 1993 while under the new ownership of former player, Mannie Jackson. Sometimes playing nearly 368 games per year, even more than one game a day some days, for twenty-four years, the Globetrotters gradually dropped theit signiture antics for no-nonsense tours against college teams. The executive offices for the team are located in downtown Phoenix, Arizona with the team's corporate offices currently in the process of moving to suburban Atlanta. In October 2013, Shamrock Holdings, who now oened the team, sold the Globetrotters for an undisclosed amount of money to Herschend Family Entertainment, their current owners.