GlobeTrotter Origins Still Shrouded, But Less So

The New York Rens, et al

GlobeTrotter Origins Still Shrouded, But Less So

Postby Keith Ellis » Sat Feb 27, 2010 7:49 pm

My favorite feature of Ben Green's excellent Spinning The Globe is the light shed on the origin of the Harlem GlobeTrotters. Green greatly relied on an old early-Seventies piece that appeared in an annual Pro Bkb Preview-type magazine in which Tommy Brookins plausibly claimed to've started the team. In his book Green fleshes out Brookins' basic story that SaperStein created a "mirror Trotters" team that eventually supplanted the Original Harlem GlobeTrotters which Brookins had formed. Ironically, the "mirror Trotters" were mostly taken from the Savoy Big Five that'd been left over after Brookins, a former SB5er, formed his Trotter team.

Green writes that Abe Saperstein likely took the claim that his team commenced play in January 1927 as a marketing ploy after receiving a request in 1947 from Hinckley, Illinois, townsfolk for a "comeback performance." According to Green, Abe jumped on the opportunity & claimed the game would celebrate a "20-year anniversary," when in fact his team's first game in Hinckley had taken place on January 21st, 1929.

As early as December 1937, however, the Trotters' advance publicity said they were in their "11th season," which would date them back to the probably-apocryphal 1927 Hinckley game. So it may be that the Hinckley townsfolks' letter, rather than lighting a brand-new bulb, just aided a longstanding fib-notion that Saperstein had held & promoted for years.

Original Trotter Runt Pullins, a recently-graduated high school star in the fall of 1928, said many times he began playing for the Trotters -- as an equal partner at the club's commencement -- in Hinckley at the January game in 1929. Thus the following article from a DavenPort, IA newspaper of 22 Jan 1929 probably contains one of SaperStein's seminal press releases:

When the Harlem Globe Trotters come to DavenPort Friday night to meet the St Mary's Celts at St Joseph's gym, Sixth & Marquette Street, they will bring with them a basketball team whose lineup is composed of Negroes. Probably for the first time in the Tri-Cities an all-colored aggregation will be seen here.

Just as the Traylor Trunks, the world's champion girls team whom the Celts met last year, was the sensation of the local amateur season, so is this Harlem team expected to be the outstanding treat of the year here.

The Globe Trotters are bringing with them an outfit of net swishers which the Celts cannot expect to defeat. However, Coach Ed. Nolan is priming his players for this crucial contest and expects them to make a good showing Friday night.

The Trotters have cagers in their lineup who are rated as the leading colored players in the United States. They have worked up such a reputation that they have no trouble booking games when they start on their swing around the country. They are now on their way to the Pacific coast from Washington, DC, and when their schedule is finished sometime in May they will have played in practically every state in the Union.

The Easterners are entertainers as well as cagers of renown and they more than give the fans their money's worth. Consequently, the crowd is expected to arrive early Friday night to watch the colored boys warm up.

Manager Chauncey Ruhl is making arrangements now to handle 500 fans in the St Joseph's gym. Seats will be placed in the balcony and on the stage. These, together with the sideline seats, are expected to handle the fans in nice manner.

The Celts are under much expense in bringing the Harlem quintet to the city, but it is likely that they will be able to handle the financial agreement all right.

Most striking difference about this press release & others that followed over the years is the absence of mention of any individuals' names. In the 1930s the Trotters, NY Rens, Chicago Crusaders, & other barnstormers characteristically played up the players' names & abilities, flashy or otherwise. An Oct 1929 press release for the Chicago HottenTots, cousins of Dick Hudson's Crusader/Savoys, mechanically ran thru the players name-after-name (Charles Fischer, "clever forward" Tom Brookins, Rock Anderson, Joe Lillard, Specs Moten, Al Ramsey, & ex-Ren Georgie Fiall).

So we may guess Saperstein didn't want to mention any players' names in his early 1929 releases because he was so freshly fibbing-&-feinting about his copycat Trotters' existence. In fact, since we don't have the date for when Brookins turned over his Original GlobeTrotters uniforms to Abe, this Iowa press release could be referring to the Brookins ballclub rather than the Saperstein squad -- but the vagueness of player identities & outrageous falsehoods about playing in Washington DC points toward Abe.

Additional 1928/29 season reports/boxscores on the Savoyageurs or Trotters will help to clear up who is who. In early February 1929 the NY Rens won a tough 38-35 game in Chicago over the "Savoy Big Five" that was the team (led by seminal highschool champ William Watson) Abe double-dipped that same season into appearing as the "mirror Trotters." So SaperStein's squad actually faced the Rens ten years in advance of their famed 1939 showdown in Chicago.

PS: The boxscore of the 25 January 1929 game in DavenPort showed the local Celtics winning 25-24 over Runt Pullins' team. Runt had four points for the losers, who were led by right forward Fat Long's eight & center Andy Washington's seven. Right guard Toots Wright & left guard Kid (or Napoleon?) Oliver had three & two, respectively, for the team billed in this followup game account as the "New York Harlem GlobeTrotters." All of these Mirror Trotters had been Wendell St Phillips players.
Keith Ellis

Postby Keith Ellis » Sat Feb 27, 2010 9:53 pm

On 18 Feb 1929 the Trotters' advance billing readily named their players, particularly Pullins, for a game in Sterling, Illinois, near the Iowa border. Next day in the Sterling newspaper the game was reported won by Harlem 28-23, as the Trotters were said to be headed to Earlsville (halfway to Chicago) en route to going "back East."

My guess is that by the time of this game Tommy Brookins had already given up the Trotters to Abe, as the suggested reason for Abe's ruse at the beginning was that the "mirror Trotters" were playing in further-away locations such as either Michigan or Minnesota (the state where the ruse was "found out" later came into doubt) -- not an hour's drive away from Chicago.

Chicago players mentioned in the 7 Feb Savoys/Rens game -- WWatson (who was injured & left the contest w/ eight points, helping the SB5 get out to a 33-25 lead), Lillard, & Moten -- included none of the Wendell Phillips alums reported as Globe Trotters at the same time.
Keith Ellis

Postby Keith Ellis » Sat Feb 27, 2010 10:28 pm

Reviewing Ben Green -- he wrote that on 9 Feb 1929 the Trotters were featured in the Chicago Defender in an article featuring a photograph of Brookins.

How likely is it that SaperStein would be spotting his "mirror Trotters" in DavenPort, Iowa in late January, while Brookins was still running a competing club of the same name? DavenPort is closer to Chicago than Indianapolis is. I couldn't imagine a mirror-Trotters team playing in Indy w/out Brookins getting wind of it.

We need to see the Defender article Green makes reference to. Just-featuring a photo of Brookins could indicate Brookins had already agreed, playing-wise, to step out of the Trotters' "picture," so to speak. Perhaps Pullins' first game in Hinckley -- less than a week preceding the DavenPort game -- marked the point at which Abe & the Trotters had already received Brookins' "permission" to continue w/ Tommy's team's name.
Keith Ellis

Postby Keith Ellis » Sat Feb 27, 2010 10:53 pm

On 30 January the Trotters beat Waterloo, Iowa's Steely ShamRocks 27-17. Rock Anderson had been billed to play, but instead the same five Wendell Phillipsers did (Toots Wright appeared instead of Anderson).

Press release preceding this game swung wilder than others of the same period, w/ each of the Trotters said to hold a fictitious "back East" connection for clubs/cities such as Morgan in Baltimore & Howard University. The team was said to be "on its way to the West coast."
Keith Ellis

Postby Keith Ellis » Sat Feb 27, 2010 11:31 pm

On 23 January in Sterling the Trotters played what was probably Runt Pullins' 2nd or 3rd game for them, losing 22-21. A player named Bill Pitney scored 18 to lead the stunning upset over a Phillips five arguably adjudged by some the uncrowned champs of Illinois in 1929, having won the "lightweight" Chicago city tourney the previous Spring.

These initial games indicate the Pullins Trotters started out their career winning at best 3 of their first 5 contests -- & again, they were a heck of a team, comprised of five Wendell Phillips state-champion-calibre stars who'd known & played w/ each other for years. What does that begin to tell us about the level of independent competition in the MidWest circa 1930?

A hypothesis I'd like to test in a "barnstorming-boxscores" collection-project at apbr is that ballyhooed ballclubs like the Harlem GlobeTrotters, NY/Harlem Rens, & NY Celtics -- three of the four clubs currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame -- may not've been quite so world-beating as they're remembered today. They surely were amongst the best clubs of their epoch, as evidenced by the World's Pro Tourney & other competitions, but maybe not to the .900+ level of excellence that so often gets repeated in their press clippings. No ABA or NBA team ever played .900 ball.

It's reported that the Naismith Hall now is considering inducting both the 1960 and 1992 US Olympic squads. These teams probably were provably greater powerhouses than the other clubs already inducted (including the Buffalo Germans).
Keith Ellis

Postby Keith Ellis » Sun Feb 28, 2010 12:40 am

In mid-December 1930 the Trotters won a game 36-30 at Rock Falls, Illinois, in which Pullins & Fat Long accounted for 30 of Harlem's 36 points. The nite previously (10 Dec) they beat a Fulton Legion team 23-13.

They were expected to play in Hinckley on 12 December -- 16+ years ahead of their "return anniversary visit."

Equally interesting, the Rock Falls game account said the Trotters were "one hundred percent better than when they played here two years ago." If the writer meant literally two years back, he's placing the GlobeTrotters in a December 1928 game -- something we haven't seen boxscores of yet.

This Rock Falls contest is the earliest in which I recall seeing InMan Jackson appear. Jackson drew mention as the "only new player" and "an exceptionally good center." According to Ben Green's book, Jackson made his Trotter debut on 5 December 1930 in Cincinnati versus the DeHart Hubbard Lion Tamers in a losing effort, 39-32. Wonder who the Trotters played between Cincy on 5 December & Rock Falls on 11 Dec 1930? The Kautskys commenced competing that year.

That MidWest month of Dec 1930 was a very interesting time for bkb. The Akron FireStone NonSkids barnstormed thru Southern Indiana in mid-December, & the two-time (white) National Champions Athens Hornets barnstormed thru the Hoosier State on Xmas Week, reportedly teaching young LeRoy "Lefty" Edwards how to hook-shoot at a game in MartinsVille.
Keith Ellis

Postby Dementia Man » Tue Mar 09, 2010 9:46 pm

It's funny how one gets involved in these things. Forty-five years ago, in January 1965, I was working on the sports desk of the Yakima Morning Herald, just a month removed from three years' service in the U.S. Army. It was my first, full-time newspapering job. The proverbial eager-beaver, that was me, anxious to make a good impression.

Told to write an advance piece for that year's Harlem Globe Trotter visit to the eastern Washington city, I was expected to take the team's press release and pound out a perfunctory few paragraphs noting the date, place and time of the exhibition. Instead, I chose to recount the entire history of the team's visits to Yakima. Burrowing deep into the paper's morgue, I found that Abe Saperstein's storied team first appeared in the city on Monday night, January 11, 1937.

From my notes: "Bunny Leavitt sank 26 in a row, then threw one backwards over his head and into the net to cap his routine … Following a 32-27 victory over the local YMCA five (dribbling ace Bob Frazier had paced the visitors' scoring with 12 points), Saperstein told the (Herald) that the Trotters were now 54-0 on the year."

Hmmmm, I thought; if they went undefeated even in the early years, how did the Trotters ever come to lose … how many games? Hmmmm (notice the consistency of my thought processes, even then), I wondered; why did not the 1964-65 season press release, as dutifully delivered by craggy old Chicago scrivener and tub-thumper Eddie McGuire, include the team's all-time record?

Well, come to find out – 37 years later -- that the Trotter front office, in Saperstein's waning years, moved to square up the 1927 Hinckley fiction with the "annual" numbers of U.S. tours displayed on the souvenir program customers. That is more exhaustively explained in a letter I wrote in May 2002 and which appears at the end of this already rather wordy preface (my on-line cognomen, DEMENTIA MAN, is not just an idle boast).

But, as far as how many games the club had lost by January 1965, well, one had to wait awhile before those numbers began appearing again in the pre-season press materials. Evidently, somebody back in the Chicago home office thought it might be a good idea not to be calling attention, right away, to how many games the team had played and won, and however many years it had taken to amass the record.

Tucked into some, but not all, of the next year's press releases was, finally, this blurb:

"The current Globetrotter team entered the 1965-66 campaign with a 39-year record of 8,434 victories against a mere 322 defeats."

Actually, I had already found the number of losses (322) as I scoured through the back issues of Yakima papers. I also – surprisingly – found one of the losses:

Yakima WA: January 11, 1950
(Armory, att. 1,850) … MADIGAN GENERAL HOSPITAL 40, HARLEM GLOBE TROTTERS 33 … said to be only the second loss of the season for this unit, after 65 or so in a row … first loss was supposed to have been in Minnesota … Trotters led, 28-18, at the half … Ellensburg Herald: “For most of the second half there was more head knocking and posterior protruding than there was scoring, but the Madigans rolled in the final five minutes to their win.” … One account said the Trotters failed to score a field goal in the second half after leading by nine points at intermission.

This was just one in as many as a score of games played by the "western unit" Trotters against a team of Pacific Northwest professionals, many of whom had played in the reasonably fast Pacific Coast Pro Basketball League after the war. Al Brightman, a onetime Boston Celtic who went on to achieve coaching acclaim at Seattle University by recruiting the famous O'Brien twins (and, later, Elgin Baylor) to the Jesuit school, was a key figure on the team. Brightman went to his grave claiming he and his cohorts, who played under a variety of team identities in this early 1950s series, beat the Bob (Showboat) Hall-anchored Globe Trotters NINE times. (Still other accounts insist that, over a three-year span, the team known variously as the Mountaineers, or Madigan Hospital, or Tacoma Brewers, beat these western-unit Trotters on 12 of 20 occasions.)

One of those wins, though, was NOT the February 1950 rematch of the Trotter-Madigan General Hospital game. Hall had scored 20 by the time the Madigan center, Big Bob Graf, assaulted him with a minute or so left in the game, prompting the referees to blow the whistle and call it off, then and there, with the Globies leading, 58-54. When the Trotters found the then-named "Madigan Mountaineers" spoiling for a third game in Yakima the following January, 1951, they politely demurred, skipped visiting the town altogether, and went on down to neighboring Sunnyside, Wash., for a more peaceful outing against a local five.

Well, having gotten my nose into this heretofore unknown (to me) slice of Globe Trotter melodrama (which, to my editor's space-saving dismay, occupied a full half a page of the Yakima Morning Herald prior to the Trotters' 1965 appearance), I began what I now know, after 45 years, to be an impossible quest:

I determined to identify all the games LOST by the winningest team in sports history.

One product of this pretty much, life-long investigation was the aforementioned letter written from South Bend, Ind., after a three-day session in George Rugg's little heaven-on-earth, the Joyce Sports Research Collection in the basement of the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame. For your edification here it is:

The Globe Trotter File at Notre Dame ...

The Trotters' first yearbook/annual program was produced for the 1947-48 season ... in it, "as selected by Abe Saperstein," were the "All-time, All-Star Globetrotters":


(1929-34) Al (Runt) Pullins; (1934-39) Harry Rusan; (1930-44) Inman Jackson; (1939-42) Sonny Boswell; (1939--) Louis Pressley.


(1940-41, 1945-46) Zack Clayton; (1947--) Ernmer Robinson; (1941-42, 1946-47) Goose Tatum; (1939-42, 1945--) Ted Strong; (1934-39) Bill Ford.


(1930-33) Rock Anderson; (1929-30) Tommy Brookins; (1938-41, 1943-47) Bernie Price; (1947--) Marques Haynes; (1934-39) Bob Frazier.

Then, in the 1949-50 annual, a revised edition of the "All-time, All-Star Globetrotters, Selected by Abe Saperstein":


Al (Runt) Pullins (1929-34), Harry Rusan (1934-39), Ermer Robinson (1947--), Reece (Goose) Tatum, 1941-42, 1946--), Inman Jackson (1930-44), Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton (1948--), Ted Strong (1939-42, 1945--), Louis (Babe) Pressley (1939--), Wyatt (Sonny) Boswell (1939-42), Marques Haynes (1947--).


Zack Clayton (1940-41, 1945-46), Rock Anderson (1930-33), Tommy Brookins (1929-30), Opal Courtney (1935-37), Bernice Price (1938-41, 1943-47), Andy Washington (1929-30), Bill Ford (1934-39), Bob Frazier (1934-39), Walter (Toots) Wright (1929-33), Randolph Ramsey (1930-31).

Of course, by the time of the (1962)-63 yearbook, Abe's all-time Trotters were:

Harry Rusan (1935-42), Sonny Boswell (1939-42), Clarence Wilson (1950--), Al (Runt) Pullins (1929-34), Inman Jackson (1928-42), Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60), Babe Pressley (1936-52), Hilary Brown (1939-41), Bill Ford (1932-36) and Charles (Tex) Harrison (1952--).

And, in the (1970)-71 yearbook, this little snippet:

"We're often asked who were the five players on the first club back in 1927, who bounced around the country with the late Abe Saperstein, the team founder and sixth player. They were Andy Washington, Willie (Kid) Oliver, Walter (Toots) Wright, Byron (Fats) Long and Al (Runt) Pullins."

The first yearbook (issued in late 1947) lists the all-time, year-by-year record, beginning with the 1927-28 season (101 wins, 6 losses).

And then, this from the (1972)-73 yearbook, excerpted from the "Trotters' Roster 1927-1973):

* Original Team, 1926-27 season

Long, Byron "Fat"
Oliver, William "Kid"
Pullins, Al "Runt"
Washington, Andy
Wright, Walter "Toots"

Okay. Toss out of the obvious typos (discrepancies in years played, and what sort of things strike the eye?

For me, that no one on the "original" team played before the (1928)-29 season, according to the late '40s all-time teams ... which declare, outright, that Pullins, Washington and Wright and ... Jackson (two starting years given in the all-time compilations) were members of the (1928)-29 squad, along with Tommy Brookins.

How's that for the inaugural Trotter team? ... Close, but not quite. That honor seems to befall the same five who played the Jan. 25, 1929 game in Davenport IA (as noted in the above ruminations by Keith). And, unless you want to believe Runt Pullins, as a mid-term high school junior (still busy playing a scholastic schedule) was already barnstorming/on the road as a pro, all thoughts of a January 1927 Globe Trotter origin fly out the window. But back to Abe's "best player" lists, since they were my first clue – long, long ago – that January 7, 1927 was a hollow, not hallowed, date in team history:

Of course, after Tatum and Haynes (and, later, Clifton) joined up with the Magicians, they were deleted from these lists -- although, curiously, Pullins -- another expatriate -- never was. But what are we to think of Abe's regard for Ermer Robinson and Ted Strong ... who were among the first 10 in the late '40s, but even after the Tatum, Haynes and Clifton spots opened up, were dropped ... for, among others, the oldtimer Hilary Brown, who suddenly appears on the 1962-63 list.

In the Magicians' yearbook from the season when Tatum joined Haynes came this observation from Haynes (in a letter to Los Angeles Examiner columnist Bob Hunter):

"It is my opinion that very few, if any, of Mr. Saperstein's players are financially satisfied. I know of many individual cases where this could very well be verified, but due to the players being employed by him, I won't mention any names."

Oh, one other interesting tidbit. In a box of Trotter programs/yearbooks, there were typed notes, either on stationery or note cards dating from when the club was owned by George Gillette and his partners ... leading one to believe that either that a Joyce collection archivist or some donor had asked the Trotter office to contribute some books to make a full set. And one of the notes reads as follows:

There is no 38th season book. At this point in time a recount of seasons was made -- and the Yearbooks were "off" ... in order to correct the error -- European tour of 1964 was designated Season 38 -- with the 1965 book correctly named 39th Season.

Think about that. The yearbooks jumped from (1963)-64 being designated the 37th season to (1964)-65 being designed the 39th season. In other words, it finally dawned on someone if the Trotters were going to persist in the fiction that the team first played during the 1926-27 season, the yearbooks should match up numerically.

So, what I'm left with after this little burst of discoveries: a) the 1947-48, or inaugural, yearbook shows the team's "authentic" won-loss records beginning with the 1927-28 season, and the next 16 yearbooks list the cumulative number of seasons based on that "fact" before a year is skipped to make the yearbooks agree with the 1926-27 "origins"; b) and, at the same time, none of Abe's all-time teams shows any of the "original" Globetrotters playing before the (1928)-1929 season.

Respectfully submitted by …
Port Orford OR
March 2010
Dementia Man
Posts: 29
Joined: Fri May 11, 2007 3:32 pm

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