Announcement for a Harlem Globetrotter's Exhibition from the AFRO Archives.

Announcement for a Harlem Globetrotter’s Exhibition from the AFRO Archives.

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Around this time every year, the sports world is tuned into a series of games that culminates the basketball season known as the NBA Finals.

The NBA, widely considered the most prominent and competitive professional basketball league in the world, would not have risen to the heights it did without the contributions of an internationally known basketball organization with a history spanning nearly a century.

Recently, the Harlem Globetrotters crafted an open letter to the NBA requesting a franchise in the league, citing historical contributions the team made to what has become one of the most lucrative sports corporations in the world. “On June 21, 2021, we wrote an open letter to the NBA requesting a team. We have, yet, to hear from the commissioner,” the organization said, soliciting support from visitors to its website by also releasing a petition.

Today, the NBA is composed of about 75% Black players. But the league’s first Black players came from the Harlem Globetrotters. From Nat Clifton, to Earl Lloyd, to Wilt Chamberlain, to Connie Hawkins — the Globetrotters created a pipeline of exceptional Black talent to the NBA, which elevated the league from average to noteworthy.

A little more than 70 years ago, the Globetrotters squared off against the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers in exhibition games in 1948 and 1949 and were victorious. Rather than granting the team a franchise, the NBA recruited and signed players from the Globetrotters, knowing that their skills would attract large audiences and provide a much-needed financial boost.

“Yet, back in the day, that was a rare sight. For much of America, Black players were literally blackballed from playing with and against White players,” the Globetrotters organization wrote in the letter. “But instead of just letting us in, you took our players.”

The Globetrotters deserve to be considered for a franchise, said David Naves, a sharpshooting forward who competed with the team in the early 1970s. A franchise was promised to them many years ago but never happened, he said.

“I think if the Globetrotters show that they can be competitive, that they have the financial backing, why not give them a franchise? Franchises have been granted to lesser entities, to unknown entities,” said Naves, a native of Chicago who now resides in Bowie. “I’ll tell you one thing: if the Globetrotters are given a franchise, that’s one name people will recognize.”

For a team to become a franchise within a league, a number of factors must be taken into consideration, such as finding the right city and connecting with the appropriate investors, among others, Naves pointed out.

After retiring from basketball, Naves, a graduate of Northern Illinois University, was a systems engineer with NASA for more than 30 years. He now serves as a board member with the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

For the Globetrotters to become an NBA team, the league would likely have to go through another expansion. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has hinted at the possibility of a  league expansion, which in economic terms can be viewed as “the sale of a team that does not exist yet,” according to CBS Sports writer Sam Quinn. 

Today, the NBA is composed of about 75% Black players. But the league’s first Black players came from the Harlem Globetrotters. (Courtesy photo)

“A buyer or a group of buyers purchases a team not from an existing owner, but from the league itself,” Quinn wrote in a 2020 article. “As the league is nothing more than the 30 teams that make it up, the sale price is split evenly among those 30 teams, and because it is not considered basketball-related income, the teams keep every cent of that money for themselves.”

The Globetrotters captured their first World Basketball Championship in 1940 after beating the Chicago Bruins. The team was founded in 1926 by Abe Sperstein and as time progressed, the Globetrotters garnered recognition as the “world’s best basketball team.” 

“We continued to pack arenas and grow the game of basketball across the globe. When the NBA struggled to draw more than a few thousand fans, we agreed to schedule doubleheaders featuring the Globetrotters. As the NBA grew, you were able to attract the best Black players, but we remember who helped the NBA get it all started,” says the letter written to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

“Don’t get us wrong, we love what y’all have done recently and we are proud of how your players are standing up to make a difference in their communities. But don’t get it twisted; basketball would not be what it is today without us.”

Not only have the Globetrotters proven that they could field a competitive team, but essentially brought the game of basketball to the world, performing and competing in 123 countries. 

The showmanship and dazzling moves that intrigued sports fans during the And 1 era can be attributed to the Globetrotters. The team also popularized the fast break, the slam dunk and the figure-eight weave. “Based on what we’ve already proven, we can field a team of talent on par with the pros of today, and we want the chance to do that,” the letter concludes.

“As a world renowned and legendary professional basketball team, we petition Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA governors and the powers that be to grant The Original Harlem Globetrotters an NBA franchise.”

In other news: Globetrotters bobblehead series unveiled

As the Harlem Globetrotters prepare to tour the world again after a long layoff resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has unveiled six officially licensed, limited-edition Globetrotters bobbleheads. 

Image of bobblehead toys based on the Harlem Globetrotters.

As the Harlem Globetrotters prepare to tour the world again after a long layoff resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has unveiled six officially licensed, limited-edition Globetrotters bobbleheads. (Courtesy photo)

The bobbleheads will feature Globetrotters Hi-Lite Bruton, Torch George, Hammer Harrison, Big Easy Lofton, Moose Weekes, and mascot “Globie,”  The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum (NBHFM) announced on June 29.

“We are thrilled to be teaming up with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters to release the first Globetrotters bobbleheads in nearly 20 years,” NBHFM co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar said, according to a release. 

“For over 90 years, the Globetrotters have brought smiles to the faces of young and old around the world with their basketball wizardry and showmanship. These are the first bobbleheads to truly capture that.”

Each bobblehead will capture the Globetrotters’ distinctive athletic and comedic features with their attention-grabbing action poses. These exclusive items feature the Globetrotters performing their classic moves like soaring through the air to dunk and balancing two basketballs on top of the other, according to the NBHFM, based in Milwaukee.

Through the NBHFM’s online store, a limited edition of 2,020 of each bobblehead will be available for purchase for $25 individually or $150 as a set, plus shipping. The bobbleheads are expected to ship in August, the hall of fame and museum said.

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