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The Globetrotters theme, "Sweet Georgia Brown" as recorded by Brother Bones in 1949
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In the beginning...
Around the time World War I was ending in the early 20th century, the Great Migration of blacks began, with them moving from the southern states to major cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and New York and Philadelphia. Housing became an issue between blacks and whites during this migration. Major cities adopted residential segregation laws to keep blacks out of predominantly white neighborhoods.
African Americans were confined to their own neighborhoods. Harlem's Black population ballooned from 50,000 in 1910 to over 200,000 black citizens by 1930. Harlem had been predominantly white prior to the Great Migration. It wasn’t until the late 1940’s that the US Supreme Court declared that lower courts could not enforce segregated housing covenants. The time of the migration brought forth the Harlem Renaissance era which highlighted blacks people's contributions to the arts & sciences. Also coming out of that era were two major black basketball teams: the New York Renaissance and (in Chicago) the Original Harlem Globetrotters from.
The Real story...
George Walter Ball was a Black American baseball pitcher from the Negro Leagues. He had played ten years as the only black player on minor league (white) teams in Minnesota and North Dakota. He owned a black basketball team representing the Giles Post American Legion. George asked Abe to coach his team and help open doors for them to tour in Illinois and Wisconsin. When the Savoy Ballroom (adopted from the so named, already famous New York Club) opened in Chicago, Dick Hudson, the business manager of Giles Post team made the deal for the team to partner with the Ballroom and carry the name, "The Savoy Big Five".
Disagreements between the players and management over money caused some members of the team to quit. They asked Abe to come with them and he agreed. These members were Walter 'Toot’s' Wright, Byron “Fat” Long and Willis “Kid” Oliver. They picked-up Andy Washington (Howard University) and Bill Tupelo (Kansas City). By becoming the booking agent and coach he took control of the team, later renaming the team, the Harlem Globetrotters. They set off the season on Jan 7, 1927. Inman Jackson joined the team in 1929 as the first showman of the Trotters. The Trotters started to put comedy in the routine on some of the easier games when they had a comfortable lead.
In 1925 The (All White) ABL was created. The initial teams were the Cleveland Rosenblum’s, NY Celtics, Boston Whirlwinds and the Philadelphia Sphas made up of Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants.
By the late 30’s the trotters were still playing small towns. They were beating teams by large numbers and getting better with the comedy routines. Then came the worst economic downturn in the history of our country, the Great Depression. When the stock market crashed in October, 1929, it sent Wall Street into a panic and millions of investors lost money. Spending plummeted, and by 1933, the Great Depression reached its lowest point, over a million Americans were unemployed and close to half of the country’s banks had failed.
In 1937 The NBL (also all White) was created and made up of the small town teams and teams sponsored by the well known local industrial companies of the day. Some of the teams were: the Fort Wayne General Electrics, The Akron Firestone Non-Skids and The Akron Goodyear Wingfoots.
In 1940 The Herald American held the World Basketball Tournament in Chicago. Teams were Waterloo Wonders, Clarksburg Oilers, Sheboyken Redskins, Oshkosh Stars, House of David, Kenosha Royals, Syracuse Reds, Chicago Bruins and the NY Ren’s. These teams came from all over the united states. The Globetrotters played straight ball that night with no comedy routine. That night the team went up against the NY Ren’s to advance the tournament. They beat the Ren’s 37-36. They played Babe Pressley, Bernie Price, Sonny Boswell, Inman Jackson along with Ted Strong. Ted was noted to be the best player to date during that era. Bob Frazier, Bill Ford Harry Rusan also played in the tournament.
Photo of that famous packed Chicago stadium on Nov 29, 1940 when the Globetrotters played the college All-Stars. The game drew a record crowd of near 22,000.