It’s impossible to not have fun at a Harlem Globetrotters game.
One of the most storied and recognizable sports team in American history, the Globetrotters mix an exhibition game of basketball with hijinks, unbelievable feats of skill and talent, and plenty of crowd participation.
The Harlem Globetrotters will make a return trip to Savannah on Nov. 28 at the Savannah Civic Center.
A group of African-Americans called the Savoy Big Five began playing exhibition games in 1926 before dances at the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. A few short years later, they would transform into the tour de force that has become the Harlem Globetrotters.
In 1929, Abe Spaterstein took over managing the team, renaming them in honor of the Harlem Renaissance happening at the same time in Harlem, N.Y., and took the show on a Midwest tour. At that time, the Globetrotters were more of a straightforward basketball team, participating in the World Professional Basketball Tournament, which they won in 1940. They beat the Minneapolis Lakers, now the Los Angeles Lakers, in 1948, when the Lakers were one of the best all-white teams in the nation.
Once the the National Basketball Association formed in 1946 and took prominence, the Globetrotters began to shift direction. In the early 1940s, they started slipping in comic acts to the games, and over subsequent decades, they’ve become known all over the world for their gravity-defying skills, as well prank and comedy routines.
Around that same time, the Globetrotters began taking on nicknames. One of the team’s most famous players, Wilt Chamberlain, was known as The Stilt. Chamberlain was later drafted into the NBA, where he became one of the most dominant forces to ever play the game.
The team's rich history has become a driving force for today's players.
“It’s truly an honor to be part of one of the truly historic brands, with so much history behind it,” current Globetrotter small forward Bulldog Mack said. “We’ve had Harlem Globetrotters meet Popes and kings. The history goes back so far and it’s truly, truly rich with genuine people. People who have changed lives and the world.
"Every time we’re out, I always get a story about someone’s father took them to a game, or their mother, and going to a Harlem Globetrotters game was one of the best experiences of their childhood. That’s why they’re taking kids, to keep that tradition going. It’s really, truly an honor.”
Typically, the Globetrotters will play a team like the Washington Generals in an exhibition that will include pre-game ball-handling antics, post-game autograph signing and much more in between. The game is a real game and isn’t staged. While the other team will clear the way on defense for incredible dunking and dribbling feats, they will hit the other end of the court, looking to score as normal.
A Globetrotters game is also the only place to see another special long-shot, which happens to Bulldog’s favorite part of the game.
“We’re the only team with a four-point line,” Bulldog said. “If you shoot from behind that line, it’s four points. So whenever one of our teammates goes on a run and makes five or six four-pointers in a row, the crowd goes crazy. They’re just screaming, the kids are screaming at the top of their lungs. It’s the most exhilarating experiences to have.”
Savannah has a number of ties to the Globetrotters. Most recently, former Savannah State guard Crissa “Ace” Jackson became one of only 13 women to play for the Globetrotters. She was a Lady Tiger from 2008-10. Jackson won’t be on the team that visits Savannah, but Bulldog will be, as well as Hammer Harrison, Bull Bullard and Firefly Fischer.
“Those guys are awesome,” Bulldog said. “Bull Bullard is a world record holder. He’s insane. He makes trick shots out of airplanes.”
For Bulldog, who followed his brother into the Globetrotters, getting a chance to play ball, entertain and interact with fans is why he loves his job so much.
“Not a lot of other teams interact with them, but the Harlem Globetrotters do; that’s what makes special,” Bulldog said. “We’ll take pictures. We’ll do autographs after the games for 30 minutes. You can get anything you want signed, any memorabilia. It’s really, truly an honor, because the fans kept us around for 92, going on 93 years. That’s the least we can do, is give back to the fans. It takes it to another level. It’s so much fun to be out there.”