Wendell Phillips High School, 1919 Postcard

Max Rigot Selling Co., Chicago | Wendell Phillips High School, Chicago | Postmarked and dated September 1919 | Postcard

Savoy Big Five basketball team, 1927

Members of the Savoy Big Five basketball team, which became the Harlem Globetrotters | 1927 | Reproduction

The Story of the Harlem Globetrotters, 1949-50 Edition, souvenir program

The Story of the Harlem Globetrotters, 1949-50 Edition, 23rd Sensational Season souvenir program | 1949


The Harlem Globe Trotters began in Chicago as a team of former basketball stars from Wendell Philips High School on the city’s South Side. In 1928, they used the name Savoy Big Five, sponsored by the nearby Savoy Ballroom, a popular dancehall. That team split up the same year, resulting in a new squad called the Globe Trotters. In early 1929, Abe Saperstein, a city parks department worker with some experience scheduling basketball games, was engaged as the Globe Trotters’ booking agent, because, as one team member reportedly put it, “he has a white face.” To signal that this was an African American team, just like the New York Rens, Saperstein added the name of the country’s black capital, and the Harlem Globe Trotters were born.

Newspaper articles promoting the Harlem Globetrotters.

Newspaper article promoting a game between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Sheboygan Redskins | November 11, 1940 | Newspaper clipping

Newspaper article reporting the start of the annual Globetrotters training camp, jointly held with the Sheboygan Redskins of the National Basketball League | The Sheboygan Wisconsin Press | November [9], 1940 | Newspaper clipping

Newspaper article reporting upcoming Sunday basketball game between the Harlem Globetrotters and Sheboygan Redskins | The Sheboygan Wisconsin Press | November 21, 1942 | Newspaper clipping

Abe Saperstein, a London-born son of Russian refugees, was a marketing genius and one of basketball’s greatest entrepreneurs. After joining the Harlem Globe Trotters in early 1929, months before the start of the Great Depression, he immediately booked the team on lengthy out of state trips and established its reputation for ball handling and comedy. A prolific promoter, Saperstein booked 150 games for 1930-31, the team’s second season, and thereafter never looked back, continuing at that pace for the next 30 years.

Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, ca. 1949 Photograph

Harlem Globetrotters basketball team featuring Marques Haynes, Reece “Goose” Tatum, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, and William “Pop” Gates | Ca. 1949 | Photograph

Harlem Globetrotters vs. Sheboygan Redskins, November 19, 1939 1939 | Ticket

Harlem Globetrotters vs. Sheboygan Redskins, November 19, 1939
1939 | Ticket

Original Harlem Globe Trotters vs Rockford Eagles, November 14, 1947 1947 | Ticket fragment

Original Harlem Globe Trotters vs Rockford Eagles, November 14, 1947
1947 | Ticket fragment

Harlem Globetrotters basketball team in Havana, Cuba for the 1947 Cuban Invitational Tournament | 1947 | Photograph

Harlem Globetrotters basketball team in Havana, Cuba for the 1947 Cuban Invitational Tournament | 1947 | Photograph

Event program, Basketball Triple Header: Harlem Globe Trotters vs. All Hawaii, Philadelphia SPHAs vs. New York Rens, New York Celtics vs. Kansas City Stars, March 7, 1948

Event program, Basketball Triple Header: Harlem Globe Trotters vs. All Hawaii, Philadelphia SPHAs vs. New York Rens, New York Celtics vs. Kansas City Stars, March 7, 1948 | 1948


Harlem Globe Trotters owner Abe Saperstein was a brilliant, audacious, adaptable entrepreneur. He saw basketball as entertainment – winning justified showmanship, which was far more lucrative than was winning alone. Saperstein strove for the amusement of whites and sought approval from no one. His trademark was staging the best shows as measured by laughs and publicity. Saperstein was criticized for exploiting his players and for shamelessly reinforcing black stereotypes. “He can do more tricks with a basketball than a monkey can do with a peanut,” Saperstein said in August 1948, upon signing Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton to what was reportedly the highest salary ever paid to a Globe Trotter. But he also expanded the sport by creating fascination with the game and seeing its future as a global or wide-reaching attraction. Saperstein proved it in 1947 by taking the Globe Trotters to the 1947 Cuban Invitational Tournament in Havana and on a 1948 tour of Hawaii.

Scrapbook, Oshkosh All Stars basketball team and rival teams, 1930s-1940s

Rens-Oshkosh ticket fragment, 1937

Scrapbook of highlights of Oshkosh All Stars basketball team and rival teams, 1930s-1940s

University of Wisconsin, New York Renaissance vs Oshkosh, February 21, 1937 | Ticket fragment

An extensive collection of clippings from the 1930s, in a scrapbook owned by a devoted supporter of the all-white Oshkosh (Wisconsin) All Stars professional basketball team provides a glimpse at the level of respect, admiration, and acceptance of the all-black New York Rens professional team and its players, even among white fans of the game.


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