Story of the Week
Barnstorming days of basketball’s middle-age years provided no more memorable name or charismatic figure than colorful Abe Saperstein. Of the many ingenious promoters who built the sport from scratch in the teens and ‘20s, by organizing traveling squads of itinerant hoopsters who would play in dance halls, high school gyms, converted outdoor arenas, or absolutely anywhere a game might be had against local opposition for a day’s paycheck.
It was Saperstein with his Chicago-based Harlem Globetrotters that captured the nation’s and eventually even the entire world’s imagination. Abe’s pioneering team, with its boatload of charismatic stars such as "Goose" Tatum, Marques Haynes, and Meadowlark Lemon, and its unique blend of basketball skill with comic routine and pure entertainment, spread American basketball to all corners of the globe and across the decades.
Saperstein began his fairy-tale career by managing local semi-pro outfits in Chicago, and out of these grew first his Savoy Big Five team, and later his Harlem Globetrotters, who played their first road game in Hinckley, Illinois in 1927. The misleading name for his team with Chicago roots was carefully chosen as a promotional gimmick orchestrated by a brilliant novice promoter.
The Globetrotters first gained widespread recognition with their triumphs in the World Tournament competitions at the end of the ‘30s. They gained considerable visibility, also, with tours versus college all-star teams, and with a series of games staged with the NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers. Both promotional tours produced big gates and even bigger interest in the ‘Trotters.
By the 1940’s, with Tatum and Haynes in the fold, the Globetrotters turned more and more toward crowd involvement, featured stunts designed to interact with the courtside spectators, introduced wholesale slapstick comedy, and provided something of a three-ring basketball circus.
Despite Saperstein’s death in 1966, the Globetrotters have continued on for decades more, and for hundreds of thousands of additional miles. In the process, they have extended Saperstein’s living legacy as well as their own unique niche as basketball’s original international ambassadors.
The team Abe Saperstein launched has now played over 20,000 games over a half-century of touring, appeared in more than 100 countries, and performed before 100 million-plus spectators.
There isn’t a kid, or an adult for that matter, who doesn’t enjoy the fabled Harlem Globetrotters. When you hear "Sweet Georgia Brown", you know you’re in the right place.
Last Week’s Trivia
What pitcher holds the World Series record for most innings pitched in one game? It’s another Babe Ruth trivia question. Ruth pitched 14 innings in game two of the 1916 World Series. Ruth got the 2-1 win over Brooklyn, and his Boston Red Sox won the series. How incredible this man was! I could literally write a trivia question every week about this one-of-a-kind king.
Trivia Question of the Week
Two NFL expansion teams won their very first game since the league began expansion in 1960. Who were they? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.