I don’t know exactly what prompted the memory. Maybe it was the news item that President Obama had stitches in his lip from a basketball injury. Maybe it was watching my Lakers get beat for the fourth time in a row and realizing that at any time in the game eight of the ten players on the floor were black. Maybe it was that my memoir is about to be published and I flash back on episodes from my youth.
Whatever…I thought about the Harlem Globe trotters…and Meadowlark Lemon.
When I was growing up in Iowa in 1950 I think I went to a Globetrotter game each year for three consecutive years. One of those games I remember was against what were then the Minneapolis Lakers with their tall phenom, George Mikan (who was white). While I didn’t realize it at the time, Iowa was home court for the Globetrotters. They originated as a serious basketball team in the Negro league when Abe Saperstein decided to promote a group of talented ball players from South Chicago, where they all went to high school, by taking them on the road to challenge home town teams in southern Illinois and Iowa. This was in the 1920s.
So, by the time I saw them they had evolved from serious ball players to showboating entertainers. And entertain they did! The shot-making would be impressive to today’s fans and the warm-up passing and dribbling would take the breath away from an Iowan adolescent. At least it did mine.
While there were legitimate stars, like Wilt Chamberlain, “Goose” Tatum and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the most remembered and certainly the longest lived was “Meadowlark” Lemon who was an active player for more than 22 years. He played in more than 16,000 games and entertained literally millions of fans. Eventually his legitimacy was established by his entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
What I began to reflect on when I thought about the Globetrotters is how much they did to bring equality to the game of basketball and eventually all sports. There is no doubt that they were instrumental in the Boston Celtics decision to sign a black to their team in 1950 and the fact that they had a winning percentage of 98.6% of their 22,000 games as of 2006 speaks eloquently of their talent.
How did they play so many games and travel through the United States, Europe and the rest of the world? Well, there was more than one team. And the talent level of each was pretty high. Thanks, Globetrotters for the joy you brought this once-upon-a-time youngster and for all you brought to the sport.
Here are three links if you want to see for yourself what the Globetrotters brought to the game: