Strange But True: Those Amazing Globetrotters

In all countries where basketball is played, fans have flocked to see the Harlem Globetrotters perform their stunts. The team has drawn huge crowds in Germany, Russia, Canada, and various African and South American countries. Everyone has a marvelous time, laughing uproariously at the Trotters’ antics. The Globetrotters don’t play serious basketball, and nobody expects them to do anything but clown around.

However, once they were probably the best basketball team on any court. Especially during the late 1940s and early 1950s. By then another great team, the Original Celtics, were only a dim memory for older basketball fans.

In 1948 the Minneapolis Lakers were the champions of the National Basketball Association. The Trotters, in spite of their clowning, were believed to be just as good. A game was scheduled between the two teams. It was hailed as “The Pro Basketball Game of the Year.”

It was a tight contest. With just over a minute to play, the score was tied at 59-59. Marques Haynes then kept possession with his dribbling, driving the Lakers and the hometown fans to despair. At the lat possible second, he fired a pass to Elmer Robinson, who scored just a clock’s tick before the buzzer. The Globetrotters won, 61-59.

The next year the teams clashed again. This time the Trotters did a little more clowning, but they still won, 49-48.

All teams learned to respect the Harlem Globetrotters. Once a squad in Canada jeered at them for their antics, putting down their real ability. The Trotters gave them a lesson in manners, routing the upstarts, 122-20. Nor would the all-black Trotters let anyone get away with racist slurs. On one such occasion Al “Runt” Pullins was insulted and took matters into his own hands. For the rest of the game no Trotter except Pullins tried for a basket. He rang up 75 points, which was enough to win.

Once there was no room in pro basketball for black players, but in 1950 the Boston Celtics signed Chuck Cooper, a star at Duquesne. Then other blacks came flooding into the professional ranks. Players such as Bill Russell and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton accepted less money from National Basketball Association teams in order to play in basketball’s major league. It was good for basketball, but not so good for the game’s most colorful team–the Harlem Globetrotters.

Now, although the Harlem Globetrotters can still play pretty good basketball, they are content to entertain their vast audiences with comedy routines.

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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  1. I saw them as a child. I don’t remember much about it, I was pretty young. I think my father must have got the tickets free from the Union, or maybe they were playing for a charity. I can’t imagine my family shelling out to take the bunch of us otherwise.

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