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The original members of the Harlem Globetrotters (then the Savoy Big Five) with the team’s founder and coach Abe Saperstein.
On January 7, 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team travels 48 miles west from Chicago to play their first game in Hinckley, Illinois.
The Globetrotters were the creation of Abe Saperstein of Chicago, who took over coaching duties for a team of African-American players originally known as the Savoy Big Five (after the famous Chicago ballroom where they played their early games). At a time when only whites were allowed to play on professional basketball teams, Saperstein decided to promote his new team’s racial makeup by naming them after Harlem, the famous African-American neighborhood of New York City.
The son of a tailor, Saperstein sewed their red, white and blue uniforms (emblazoned with the words “New York”) himself. The lineup in that first game, for which the Globetrotters were paid $75, was Walter “Toots” Wright, Byron “Fat” Long, Willis “Kid” Oliver, Andy Washington and Al “Runt” Pullins.
The Globetrotters won 101 out of 117 games that first season and introduced many Midwestern audiences to a game they had not seen played before. As owner, coach, manager, publicist and sometimes even substitute player, Saperstein worked overtime to book games for his team. By 1936, they had played more than 1,000 games and appeared in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Washington and North and South Dakota.
(The Globetrotters didn’t actually play a game in Harlem until the late 1960s.) Their first national championship appearance came in 1939, when the Globetrotters lost to the New York Renaissance. That same year, the team began to add the silly antics they later became known for, including ball handling tricks and on-court comedic routines. The crowds loved it, and Saperstein told his team to keep up the clowning around, but only when they had achieved a solid lead.