February 14, 2015


The Savoy Big Five team.

            In 1920s Chicago, Abe Saperstein organized and coached a new basketball team, the Savoy Big Five, named after the Savoy Ballroom where they played exhibition games (the team’s official history indicates the year of their formation as 1926, but the Savoy didn’t open until 1927). After several players quit the team over disputes, Saperstein became involved with another team formed by Tommy Brookins called the Globe Trotters that toured Southern Illinois. In 1929, Saperstein had renamed the team the New York Harlem Globetrotters after Harlem in New York City, then considered to be the center of African American culture. He also felt that an out-of-town team name gave the team more of a mystique (the Globetrotters wouldn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968). 

Abe Saperstein and the new Harlem Globetrotters.

            Having become one of the best teams in the country, the Globetrotters found themselves becoming eclipsed as the National Basketball Association (NBA) began to rise and fielded African-American players in the 1950s; particularly members of the team as the NBA teams often paid better. That necessitated the increasingly comic routines that the team had become known for, gradually moving away from sports into pure entertainment. Brother Bones’ whistled version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” had become the team’s signature song, played during their exhibitions and advertisements.             

Poster for the 1951 film The Harlem Globetrotters.

In 1951, the team took their first leap off the court in the movie The Harlem Globetrotters; a drama about young Bill Townsend (Billy Brown) dropping out of college to join the team and finding love along the way. It was followed up in 1954 with the sequel, Go,Man, Go!. Twelve members of the team were featured on What’s My Line? in 1956. Then, in 1970, the Globetrotters brought their talents to Saturday mornings…

No comments: