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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dunking, Spinning, and Sharing Goodwill

My husband seems to be lacking in some of the "guy" genes - fishing, hunting, cars, motorcycles, beer, and any tools other than a fork.  (Except the "remote control domination" gene, which he has in spades.)  I was relieved when we first met that I wouldn't be forced to watch sports on TV, but that changed some years ago when the Lakers bug hit him.  Hit him hard.  Then it hit me.  For years I said Pau Gasol was the one to watch.  (After all, what more could be said about Kobe?) But this past season, well, no comment.

Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.  Image courtesy of www.isportsweb.com.

So I tried to remember if I was ever interested in basketball.  While I can get into live sports, televised ones don't really do it for me.  (Except for ballroom dancing and ice skating, which count as sports in my book.) Then I remembered the Harlem Globetrotters.

Although they are not a professional team, but considered an exhibition team, they exhibit a high degree of athleticism.  Initially, however, they were a serious competitive team, only resorting to showing off when they were safely in the lead. Basketball was segregated until 1950, when the NBA drafted the first black players.  After this the Globetrotters suffered in recruiting top players.

The original 1926 team, with Abe Saperstein on the left.

I was surprised to learn they were formed back in 1926 and in Chicago by Abe Saperstein.  "Harlem" was chosen because it was the Mecca of black culture, therefore having serious street cred, and "Globetrotters" to make people think they had traveled the world.  Although they didn't play in Harlem until 1968, since their formation they have traveled to over 110 countries, playing more than 25,000 exhibition games.  Their trademark song is "Sweet Georgia Brown", recorded by Brother Bones and His Shadows in the late 1940s.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

They came under attack in the Civil Rights era, and were accused of "Tomming for Abe" - a reference to Uncle Tom and their white owner.  Jesse Jackson, then a prominent activist and later an honorary Globetrotter, defended them, opining that they were a positive influence, showing blacks as superior and not stupid.

In China in 2009.

In time they became known for their entertainment, exhibiting incredible skills and coordination, making difficult shots and spinning balls on their fingertips. Members have set world records for a number of skills, in particular the vertical dunk, currently held by Globetrotter Michael "Wild Thing" Wilson at 12 feet. There are multiple teams to allow for a greater number of exhibitions, which is why they are able to play more than one game a day.  They have an approximate 98.4% win record.

Wilt Chamberlain was the first to have his
number retired on March 9, 2000.

There have been five retired numbers so far:  Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon, Reece "Goose" Tatum, and Fred "Curly" Neal.  Eight people have been named as honorary members:  Henry Kissinger, Bob Hope, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Whoopi Goldberg, Nelson Mandela, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Pope John Paul II, and Jesse Jackson.  Bill Cosby and Magic Johnson were signed to a $1 a year lifetime contract (Cosby's was upped to $1.05).

Pope John Paul II was made an honorary Globetrotter on November 19, 2000
in a special ceremony in Saint Peter's Square before a crown of 50,000.

Many film and TV shows have been made about them, from 1951's film The Harlem Globetrotters to a Sunday morning cartoon show.  They've appeared on The Price is Right and last year raised money for charity on Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader?  As their trademark alias, "The Ambassadors of Good Will", they have entertained and interacted with the public in positive ways.

A Make-A-Wish event in Sacramento, California.

They have become synonymous with basketball, becoming the sport's most famous and arguably the best spokesmen.  Traveling the world and entertaining thousands, they are indeed ambassadors of goodwill.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the official site.

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