Without the Harlem Globetrotters, the NBA as we know it might not be around today. The modern Globetrotters are primarily known for their incredible ball-handling skills and on-the-court bloopers, but that wasn’t always the case.
As a team, the Globetrotters go back much further than you may realize, and they did a lot of work to help legitimize basketball as a nationally-recognized sport.
The Harlem Globetrotters’ history
Today, they’re known as the “Harlem Globetrotters,” but they weren’t always. The team got its start in Chicago in 1926. Back then they were called the “Savoy Big Five,” and they barnstormed around the country playing exhibition matches for the American Legion.
They got their original name playing as a warm-up act for dancers at Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom. The Savoy Big Five only lasted two years before a pay dispute drove the players to form a new team under the familiar “Globetrotters” moniker.
For the first two decades, they were a serious basketball team. Most people don’t realize it, but they were also pioneers when it came to integrating African American players into the sport.
1948 was a watershed year for the team; in the years before the NBA was a thing, there was an all-white league known as the National Basketball League. That year, they defeated the best team in the NBL, the Minnesota Lakers, in a startling upset at the famous World Professional Basketball Tournament.
With the emergence of the NBA, the team became more of a novelty act, recruiting top-tier talent to perform amazing trick shots and traveling to exhibition matches all over the world along with their constant opponents, the Washington Generals.
How much does a Globetrotter make?
The average NBA player makes millions of dollars. How does a Globetrotter’s salary compare? Is it enough to consider a reasonable living?
According to Career Bliss, the average Globetrotter salary is $73,000. However, that average is the result of a wide range of jobs within the organization.
The lowest-paid member of the staff is an office manager making $41,000 per year. The highest-paid member is the vice president at $135,000. Players themselves fall somewhere in between the two extremes with a nice, yet modest $91,000 income per year. While it’s not quite a multi-million dollar NBA contract, given the excitement and travel, it’s not a bad way to make a living.
Fun facts about the Harlem Globetrotters
Did you know that the first African American in the NBA got his start playing for the Globetrotters? His name was Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, and he signed with the New York Knicks in 1950.
Legendary player Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain was also a Harlem Globetrotter. Right out of college he played with the barnstorming team for a single year. During that time, he and the team toured Russia on the Globetrotter’s first trip to the Soviet nation.
Everyone knows that the Washington Generals are Globetrotters’ perpetual opponents. The two teams travel together. Over the course of their multi-decade history, the Globetrotters have “won” against the Generals more than 16,000 times in a carefully choreographed show. But one time in 1971, the Generals decided to break the script. They won that single game with a last-second buzzer-beater.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about the Globetrotters is that in the early days of the NBA, the newly-formed league struggled to sell tickets while the Globetrotters played in front of sold-out crowds.
The globetrotters teamed up with the fledgling association, playing exhibition matches prior to NBA games. In a way, you could say that the Globetrotters even saved the floundering sport, helping it become the sport that we know and love today.