25th Anniversary Spotlight: ABA/HGT INCLUSION

May 25, 2017

The Globetrotters originated on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois in the 1920s. The original members of the Globetrotters were raised in Chicago and began as the Savoy Big Five, a basketball team comprised of African-American players that played exhibitions before dances at the Savoy Ballroom. In 1928, many of the team’s players left due to an internal dispute and went on to form a team called the “Globetrotters.” The Globetrotters were later named the “New York Harlem Globetrotters” by Abe Saperstein, the team’s manager and promoter. Saperstein later selected Harlem New York as the team’s home city prior to ever playing their first game in the city due to its relevance as the epicenter for African American Culture.

The Globetrotters won 101 out of 117 games in their inaugural season while introducing many Midwestern audiences to the game of basketball. By 1936, the team had played more than 1,000 games. In 1939, the Globetrotters appeared in their first national championship game against the New York Renaissance. The year 1939 was the first year the Globetrotters inserted silly antics including ball handling tricks and on the court comedic routines into their game play. This in addition to their style of play won fans over all across the U.S. In 1948, the Globetrotters earned a new level of respect by beating the Minneapolis Lakers of the then newly established National Basketball Association (NBA). Two years later the NBA lifted its “whites only” ban and began to draft black players. Abe Saperstein began to tour the Globetrotters on the international circuit since he faced competition from upstart leagues in the United States, such as the NBA, to recruit and maintain talent. Some of the most notable Globetrotters that went on to become NBA Legends include Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins and “Wee” Willie Gardner.

The United States witnessed the start of yet another basketball league with the emergence of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1967. The emergence of the ABA came at a time when numerous upstart leagues were challenging many of the already established professional basketball leagues in the United States. The ABA distinguished itself from its older counterparts such as the NBA by implementing a more wide-open, flashy style of play. The ABA used a colorful red, white and blue ball, similar to that of the Harlem Globetrotters, instead of the traditional orange basketball.

The ABA remained competitive for years to come by offering players and officials from the NBA far more money to participate in their rival league. The league eventually caught on with fans and became known for introducing the slam dunk contest, which has now become one of the marquee events during the NBA All-Star weekend. This event showcased the talents of basketball legends like Rick Barry, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, George “Ice Man” Gervin and Spencer Haywood. The lack of a national television contract and significant financial loss forced the ABA to cease as an independently operated league, but not before successfully completing a merger with the NBA in 1976.

The National Basketball Retired Players Association’s (NBRPA) mission to assist former players in their transition to life after basketball extends its reach beyond the NBA and WNBA by making sure the events, programs and benefits offered are also made available to Harlem Globetrotters and ABA members. To date, there are approximately 150 Harlem Globetrotter and ABA members part of the NBRPA. This group is headlined by basketball legends such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Dave DeBusschere, who is not only an NBRPA Co-Founder, but also the last commissioner of the ABA and known for playing an active role in facilitating the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Lynette Woodard, the first female player to sign with the Harlem Globetrotters, continues to pave the way for others by also joining the NBRPA as its first active female member. The NBRPA understands the importance of reserving the legacy of both the Harlem Globetrotters and the ABA. Harlem Globetrotter alum David Naves and ABA alums Rick Barry (NBA/ABA) and Spencer Haywood (NBA/ABA) all occupy seats on the NBRPA Board of Directors to ensure that the interests of their respective leagues are represented.