The Harlem Globetrotters are worldwide icons, synonymous with family entertainment and great basketball skills. The Globetrotters represent 90-plus years of breaking down barriers, acts of goodwill and a commitment to fans that goes beyond the game.
Abe Saperstein founded the team in 1926, and they played their first road game in Hinckley, Illinois, on Jan. 7, 1927. Since then, the Globetrotters have entertained more than 148 million fans in 123 countries and territories worldwide, introducing many to the sport of basketball. The team are pioneers in popularizing the slam dunk, the fast break, the forward and point guard positions, and the figure-eight weave. In 2010, the Globetrotters also introduced the first-ever 4-point shot, a shot located 30 feet from the basket – almost 7 feet beyond the NBA’s three-point arc.
In 1940, the Globetrotters won their first World Basketball Championship, defeating the Chicago Bruins. In 1948 and 1949, the Globetrotters stunned the world by twice defeating the World Champion Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA. The Globetrotters were socially influential and quickly became recognized as the world’s best basketball team, showing that African-Americans could excel on a professional level.
The victories over the Lakers accelerated the integration of the NBA, as Globetrotter Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton became the first African-American player to sign an NBA contract when he joined the famed New York Knicks in 1950. The Globetrotters also embarked on their first-ever international tour in 1950, played before their largest crowd ever – 75,000 – at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1951 and finished the decade with their first-ever trip to the Soviet Union in 1959.
The legendary Wilt Chamberlain was part of that historic Soviet Union tour, as the Hall of Famer played a full season with the Globetrotters in 1958-59. After starting his NBA career, he still played parts of several other seasons with the Globetrotters, joining the team when he could between NBA seasons. Chamberlain said that some of the most pleasant days of his life were playing for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Following their 1951 trip to Berlin, the Globetrotters picked up the moniker Ambassadors of Goodwill from a letter written by the U.S. State Department to Abe Saperstein, which named the team “ambassadors of extraordinary goodwill.” Since then, the Globetrotters have earned the accolades of many world leaders, including special acknowledgment from Presidents Eisenhower and Ford for their ability to serve mankind around the world.
The Globetrotters continued to enjoy immense popularity in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The Harlem Globetrotters cartoon show on CBS earned some of the highest ratings in the history of Saturday morning television, and the team also had their own live action Saturday morning variety show, The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, while appearing numerous times on the popular and long-running ABC's Wide World of Sports. In 1985, Olympic Gold Medalist Lynette Woodard joined the Globetrotters, becoming the first female to ever play on a men’s pro basketball team and helping to blaze a path for the WNBA.
Former Globetrotters player Mannie Jackson purchased the team in 1993, becoming the first African-American to own a major international sports and entertainment organization. He tripled the team’s revenue in three years and quadrupled its size in five. The team was also active in philanthropic efforts, with charitable contributions totaling more than $11 million under Jackson’s guidance.
Globetrotter Michael "Wild Thing" Wilson set a world record in 2000 by dunking on a 12-foot hoop at Final Four Weekend… a record that stands to this day, and one of 21 world records currently held by Globetrotters players.
The team cemented their standing as one of the world’s most influential basketball teams in 2002, receiving the sport's highest honor with induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Overall, there have been 13 people with ties to the Harlem Globetrotters inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
On Oct.1, 2013, the Globetrotters were purchased by Herschend Family Entertainment, the largest family-owned themed attractions company in the U.S., marking an expansion for the company into new media, audiences and markets.
Today, the Globetrotters continue to bring their entertainment to millions of fans around the world with more than 400 live events each year. Each Globetrotters game features some of the best athletes on the planet, unmatched fan interaction, incredible ball handling wizardly, rim-rattling dunks and side splitting comedy.
In all, close to 750 men and women have played for the world famous team, a team which has entertained popes, kings, queens, and presidents around the globe.
Off the court, the organization continues to evolve the company beyond its vibrant live event business by increasing alliances with global partners, developing a full line of licensed products, executing a multi-media strategy to gain worldwide saliency and continuing the brand’s legacy of deep social involvement in local communities.