What world-famous sports franchise can trace part of its roots to an American Legion post?
The Harlem Globetrotters. In the mid-1920s, a semi-professional all-black basketball team was formed on the South Side of Chicago. Forming its nucleus around a group of graduated players from Wendell Phillips High School, the team played under the banner and sponsorship of George L. Giles Post 87, also on the South Side. The "Giles Post" team played in both Chicago and the surrounding area, racking up an impressive record. In January 1927, the team played a game in Hinckley, Ill., that is credited by the Globetrotters as its first game. With the team by that time was coach/promoter/occasional substitute player Abe Saperstein.
Later, the team’s name changed to the "Savoy Big Five" after its new sponsor, the just-opened Savoy Ballroom. The team would actually play games in the Savoy Ballroom to drum up business. Eventually, Saperstein bought the team, renamed it the "Harlem New York Globetrotters," and continued its barnstorming tradition in ever-widening areas of the United States. Over the years, the team has remained overwhelmingly black – although one white player, Bob Karstens, played under contract as early as 1942-1943.
Today, known more for a fun-loving atmosphere and trick plays – traits that evolved over the years to keep fans interested during its often lopsided victories – the Globetrotters were a competitive force to be reckoned with for the team’s first few decades. They even beat the all-white, professional Minneapolis Lakers twice, in 1948 and 1949. Saperstein died in 1966, the year of the team’s official 40th anniversary. (This would imply that the team was founded in 1926 – the days when they played as the "Giles Post.") They finally had a "home game" in Harlem in 1968.
The Globetrotters have become basketball legends – the team itself, Saperstein and several players are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. They are also legends of goodwill and ambassadorial prowess overseas – they have played in front of popes, foreign dignitaries and military officials. Honorary Globetrotters and "contract players" include former NBA stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, as well as Henry Kissinger, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Whoopi Goldberg and others.