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In the best of their times, the Harlem Globetrotters have been regarded as the world's best basketball team, they have filled large arenas with appreciative fans, and they have raised considerable funds for a variety of charites and causes.
In the worst of their times, the Harlem Globetrotters have been slammed for reincarnating hideous and damaging stereotypes and parlaying the prejudices of their audiences into paydays. The team has known years full of nights when its jokes weren't funny, its play was sloppy and its schtick was tired.
In "Spinning the Globe," published by Amistad, Ben Green provides a thorough history of the team that was thriving when the N.B.A. couldn't give tickets away and is still on the road today. Green finds in the story of the Trotters opportunities to discuss complicated individuals such as Abe Saperstein, who promoted the team with such energy that he probably wasn't kidding himself when he decided the Globetrotters belonged to him, and Goose Tatum, who served as the team's most spectacular showman for years, but never allowed his teammates to know him well.
Green is also ambitious enough to use the story of the Globetrotters as an opportunity to say something about the racism that characterized this country when Saperstein was first trying to build his business. In France and various other foreign countries, the players were celebrated as brilliant entertainers and honored guests. When they came home, the Globetrotters couldn't eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels with the teams against which they were playing. In some respects, times have changed dramatically, and not merely in terms of the laws that protect citizens from discrimination. When Marques Haynes joined the Globetrotters in 1946, he was the first player on the team with a college degree. According to Green, 80 percent of the players on the current roster are college graduates.
Over the many years of their up-and-down existence, the Globetrotters have generated a bookful of exceptional stories. We can thank Ben Green for recognizing that and acting accordingly.
This program aired on June 24, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.
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