Fun Fact: The Harlem Globetrotters are not from Harlem. In fact, they never even played in Harlem until 1968, four decades after the team’s formation. And they’re still not from Harlem – now, they’re based in Gwinnett County!
The Globetrotters officially opened their new headquarters in Peachtree Corners in March 2016, ushering in a new era by naming Howard Smith team president. Celebrating their 93rd year in 2018, the Globetrotters continue to raise the profile of a new generation of stars while embracing the extraordinary heritage of the team’s legendary history.
They began as The Savoy Big Five, one of the premier attractions of Chicago’s Savoy ballroom, as an African-American basketball team that played exhibition games prior to dances. Founder, owner and earliest coach Abe Saperstein renamed the team, choosing Harlem as their fictitious hometown. Considered at the time to be the center of African-American culture, Saperstein thought Harlem would offer a little mystique to the team as they toured Illinois and Iowa.
Before long, the Harlem Globetrotters were taking the basketball world by storm. They won the World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1940 (long before setting up extra monitors in your office for March Madness was a thing), beating the Chicago Bruins a whopping 31-29.
The team continued to make history when Globetrotter Chuck Cooper became the first African-American to be drafted in the NBA in 1950, and teammate Nat Clifton became the first African-American to sign an NBA contract that same year. Some guy named Wilt Chamberlain was a Globetrotter as well. In 1985 – long after Chamberlain had retired – the Globetrotters signed their first female player, Olympic gold medalist Lynnette Woodard.
Over the years, the Globetrotters have played more than 26,000 exhibition games in 122 countries and territories. The team plays an insane 450+ live events worldwide each year. While the Globetrotters famous hijinks are planned, the games themselves are not fixed. Their opponents play a serious offense, resulting in a game that is approximately 20-30 percent “real.”
In their 90-year history, the Harlem Globetrotters have only one recorded loss. While entertaining the crowd on January 5, 1971 in Martin, Tennessee, the Globetrotters lost track of the game and found themselves down by 12 with two minutes left. Forced to play normal basketball, the Globetrotters rallied but could not recover, and the New Jersey Reds recorded the first win in 2,495 games. When the final buzzer sounded, the crowd was dismayed.
“They looked at us like we killed Santa Claus,” said New Jersey point guard Red Klotz. “Children were crying.”