The NBA was founded in in New York City on June 6, 1946. At that time the league was called the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and was established because the owners of eleven ice hockey teams had to avoid leaving unused courts beyond the ice hockey season. The league adopted the name National Basketball Association in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League (NBL), which was founded in 1937, and like the BAA was totally segregated. The NBL was created by three corporations General Electric, Firestone, and Goodyear. The necessity to merge was due to struggling revenues being generated by both organizations.

 

There is an untold story about the character, morals and endurance of early African American professional basketball players. Despite tolerating multiple hardships to break into the white world of basketball, they always remained loyal, respectful, and proudly represented America. Prior to African American players acceptance in the NBA, they were diverted into several non- professional teams, because of their love for the sport. One team in particular was the Harlem Globetrotters, a very different team from the one we see today.

The National Basketball Association began its season in 1950 after the merger in August 1949. When the merger took place there were 17 franchises but when the season began in 1950 there were only 11 to start the league. After about 4 years, only 8 franchises remained. In the name of segregation there was an unwritten quota rule only 2 black athletes per team. Out of the 11 franchises there were only 5 black players associated in the entire league that first year. The first Black American, Harold Hunter, signing with the Washington Capitols Hunter was cut from the team during training camp, Chuck Cooper (Boston Celtics), Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton (NY Knicks), Earl Lloyd (Washington Capitols), Hank Dezonie (Tri City Blackhawks). By the 1954-55 season there were only eight teams remained. The unwritten rule was that no NBA team could have more than two black players. Not all the teams exercised their rights to have any blacks on their team.

Many people think that the Original Harlem Globetrotters was a team like it is today, that just performed tricks with the ball. In the early years the the Trotters were not only entertaining, but fiercely competitive. Unfortunately, due to the NBA's 'Quota' system, black players were only slowly integrated into the league. 

All the while, the NBA was struggling for attendance, the Harlem Globetrotters were selling out arenas all over the world.  They even had a world record attendance in New York Yankee Stadium with over 42,000 in 1956.

They helped the NBA by playing exhibition games against the Lakers along with doubleheader games to help draw the crowd.

The Original Harlem Globetrotters would play a series of games against the College All Americans. The top 25 players in the country are chosen to participate in these games. These college All Americans were chosen from a variety of reputable sources such as coaches, radio and TV announcers.

This series of games helped to integrate the NBA.

Partial list of College All Americans that played against Abe Saperstein's

Original Harlem Globetrotters

Bob Cousy

Paul Arizin

Clifford Hagan 

Frank Ramsey 

Bob Leonard 

Franklin Selvy

Gene Shue 

Larry Costello

Tom Gola

Bill Sharmen

Thomas Heinsohn

John Kennedy Twyman

Walt Bellamy

KC Jones

Guy Rodgers

Thomas Meschery

Larry Siegfried

& Jerry Sloan just to name a few.

There was a slow integration process within the NBA. Most of the black basketball players were regulated to just rebounding and passing the ball. They held many titles, but no black player had a scoring title from 1950-1960.

Copyright 2019 The Andy Johnson Foundation

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