On January 7th, 1927, the original Harlem Globetrotters played their very first game, in Hinckley, Illinois, 48 miles west of the team’s hometown, Chicago (choosing Harlem as their adopted home was a strategic decision made after the team’s founding–more on that below). A year prior, a 24-year-old businessman named Abe Saperstein created the team, known as the Savoy Big Five, named after a Chicago district.
During this time, only whites were allowed to play professional basketball, but the young businessman found a way to capitalize off of his new team of primarily black men. Saperstein designed the original Harlem Globetrotters’ first uniform with America’s red, white, and blue, and stitched “New York” across the players’ jerseys.
He believed that associating the team with Harlem would trick audiences into believing the team was comprised of world-class athletes from what was, at the time, the most widely-known center of African-American culture in the U.S.
Twenty years after that first game in Hinckley, with America mired in serious segregation problems and the civil rights movement on the near horizon, the Harlem Globetrotters were featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in recognition of their cultural achievements. The team eventually toured the world, becoming the first American team to play in Europe, and continue to dazzle audiences today…