For decades they were the dazzle that came after Brother Bones whistled Sweet Georgia Brown
By Rod Brown
Forty years ago, the best in sports entertainment did not mean WWE wrestling or any other alphabet “rasslin” organization. Those dubious athletic contests were still arguing “FAKE or NOT FAKE”. As for the other games in Montreal, hockey was not entertainment: it was a life and death struggle of epic proportions settled with blood, toil, sweat and tears, to paraphrase Mr. Churchill – especially if the Maple Leafs were involved.
Football, soccer, tennis and golf did not rise to the level of entertainment or war – amusing perhaps, distracting certainly, but they did put an ear-to-ear grin on the faces of both children and seniors and everyone in between.
When the strains of Sweet Georgia Brown filled the auditoriums from coast to coast throughout America and Canada and eventually the world, Brother Bones whistled his way into history, as his song never sounded so pure, so joyous, so mischievous as when it heralded the entrance of the Harlem Globetrotters. Night after night, these basketball wizards dazzled audiences with skills which can only be described as magical. The “oohing and aahing” of thousands are unique sounds which define “sports entertainment”.
The Globetrotters began in 1927 under the direction of a skilled promoter named Abe Saperstein, who recognized a business opportunity with these young black athletes. There was no professional basketball (NBA), but interest across the continent was growing in small towns and school gyms.
In the beginning, the team was called the Globetrotters, until Saperstein added Harlem, which was a New York enclave viewed as the heart of African American culture. Curiously, the team didn’t play there until 1968 – so much for truth in advertising.
Throughout the decades, they moved from serious basketball (in 1940 they won the World Professional Basketball Tournament) to the clown princes of “spin and dunk”. In 1950, the NBA admitted African Americans into their ranks, thus pushing the Globetrotters firmly into the entertainment field along with their nightly foil, the Washington Generals.
As a kid, it was Meadowlark Lemon I remember. He had everything – skill, stage presence, and he laughed all the time. He seemed to love what he did and the audience returned that feeling. The referees were confused and “duped” night after night, much to our delight. A foul shot was never simple, as rubber bands and a disappearing ball came into play. Water buckets threatened the audience and Curley Neil redefined the art of dribbling.
Over the years, the Globetrotters have evolved. In 1985 their first female member, Lynette Woodward, joined the team. Players have come and gone, but one thing has remained – the Harlem Globetrotters are the epitome of sports entertainment. They provide a night to remember.
Rod Brown will never be confused with a basketball player. He is a member of the CJNU Writers’ Group.