The exact beginnings of the Harlem Globetrotters are uncertain, although the team considers that their first-ever road game took place on 7 January 1927, in Hinckley, Illinois.
In spite of the team’s name, the squad was born 800 miles west of Harlem in the south side of Chicago. In 1926, a group of former basketball players from Chicago’s Wendell Phillips High School reunited to play for the Giles Post American Legion basketball team that barnstormed around the Midwest.
The following year, the team became known as the Savoy Big Five while playing home games as pre-dance entertainment at Chicago’s newly opened Savoy Ballroom. After a pay dispute, several players bolted the Savoy Big Five in 1928 to form a new barnstorming team known as the Globe Trotters.
Abe Saperstein – a white Jewish immigrant from Chicago’s north side – became the manager of the newly formed Globe Trotters.
A master promoter, Saperstein re-christened the team as the New York Harlem Globe Trotters in the belief that the name would make the team a greater draw in Illinois and Iowa by giving the impression that they had travelled far to be there.
The shortest member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Saperstein also thought that attaching Harlem to the squad’s name would help advertise it as an all-black basketball team at the height of the Harlem Renaissance.
Not until 1968 did the team actually play a game in Harlem.
The Harlem Globetrotters proved to be entertainers off the court as well, starring in two 1950s Hollywood movies, including Go Man Go featuring Sidney Poitier.
In the 1970s they became Saturday morning television regulars, appearing in two different animated series created by Hanna-Barbera and the Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, a 1974 live-action variety show.
The team also solved mysteries with Scooby-Doo and played a team of robots after crash-landing on Gilligan’s Island.
Unlike America, British kids came to know the Globetrotters via the cartoon. There was amazement when the kids in England discovered there actually was a real Harlem Globetrotters.
In recognition of their role as entertainers, the Harlem Globetrotters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1982.