First player selected by new Early African American Pioneers of The Game Committee

Everyone should go to the library and get out a book to read up on Reece “Goose” Tatum, the star basketball player and showman who in many ways “made” the Harlem Globetrotters. He is perhaps the most famous and certainly the most original of all Globetrotters before or since.

Reece 'Goose' Tatum, Harlem Globetrotter

Reece ‘Goose’ Tatum, Harlem Globetrotter and 2011 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Tatum, who played with the Globetrotters from 1941 to 1955 and was known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” will be enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year as part of its 2011 class.

He played pivot for the Globetrotters at 6′-3″ and 190 lbs, and was the bridge between the original team and its modern version. In fact, the very first nationally televised Globetrotter’s game — in 1955, which Tatum made into an unprecedented success and which paved the way for future broadcasts — was also his last as a member of the team.

Tatum is the first player to be selected by the newly formed Early African American Pioneers of The Game Committee.

Prior Hall Inductions

Previously, the Hall of Fame had recognized Tatum only indirectly as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters that were enshrined collectively as a team in 2002. The other individually enshrined Harlem Globetrotters — who played primarily for this team — are Marques Haynes (in 1998) and Meadowlark Lemon (in 2003).

Additional former Globetrotters who are enshrined in the Hall individually are Wilt Chamberlain (in 1979), Connie Hawkins (in 1992), and Lynette Woodard (in 2004), though their biggest contributions and accomplishments in basketball were not with the ‘Trotters.

New York Rens team owner Robert “Bob” Douglas (in 1963) and Harlem Globetrotters team owner Abe Saperstein (in 1971) are also enshrined individually as contributors.

Why This Is Important

What is important about Tatum’s induction is that it marks the first time in more than a decade that the Hall of Fame has enshrined an African American player from the period predating the National Basketball Association — the Black Fives Era — on his or her own individual merit.

Prior to Haynes in 1998 and Tatum this year, the only other early era black players to have been individually inducted into the Hall are former New York Rens stars William “Pop” Gates (in 1989), and Charles “Tarzan” Cooper (in 1977).

Most basketball fans are pleased to see the formation of the new Early African American Pioneers of the Game Committee as a significant first step toward the enshrinement of many other black players whose accomplishments and contributions are deserving and meritorious on their own accord.

What They Were Saying Then

Here is what Abe Saperstein’s media guide had to say about ‘Goose’ Tatum before the 1950-51 season:

“There he is!” goes up the cry from the stands as “The Golden Goose” comes onto the court and every fan present is sure of an evening’s thrills and entertainment just watching the big fellow with the wide smile and unlimited bag of comedy tricks go through his paces. He numbers his fans all over the world in the hundreds of thousands.

Tatum likewise is recognized for his great playing ability. Boasting the largest arm reach of any major athlete in the world, a span of 84 inches, he is always doing the well nigh impossible. “The Goose” holds all individual records for the Globetrotters and evenings of wracking up 50 and 60 points are not uncommon for him.

He is a pivot man par excellence, and, all in all, one of the five or six best basketball players int he sport today.

In a 1952 editorial feature on the entire team, Look Magazine wrote this:

The mainstay is Goose Tatum. The Goose hangs 6 feet 3-1/2 inches high, dwarfish by basketball standards, but his 84-inch arm span reputedly is the longest in sports. Playing in the pivot, Tatum flips the ball over his shoulders, bounces it through the legs of the man trying to guard him, or tosses i back through the basketball without looking. He does everything with the ball but eat it. He even did that once, after surreptitiously substituting a suitably spherical loaf of pumpernickel.

The Overall Context

The history of the Harlem Globetrotters is as complex as it is long, on many levels. For example, Saperstein didn’t include Tatum on his list of all-time greatest Globetrotters, published in 1963. Also, the theatrical antics of the team endured constant criticism, especially when they ran counter to the surge of black pride and self-identity epitomized by the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s.

Yet, as Philadelphia basketball legend Sonny Hill once told me, for certain generations, the Harlem Globetrotters helped introduce millions of youngsters — including himself — to all of the things that could possibly be done with a basketball, whether black or white.

Regardless of what one could say, the Harlem Globetrotters were ambassadors of the game, and Reece “Goose” Tatum made that possible.

My own personal earliest recollection of watching basketball was when they used to show the Globetrotters playing the Washington Generals on that television show, ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I remember looking forward to watching them play, whenever they were on TV.

“Goose should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago,” said Marques Haynes in Spinning the Globe, Ben Green’s comprehensive and definitive book on the history of the Globetrotters. “If he doesn’t get in, I’ll always have the feeling that the Hall of Fame is incomplete.”

Congratulations to Reece “Goose” Tatum.