Harlem Globetrotters Set
Standard for U.S. Olympic Team
By Bill Hoover, Jr.
President George Bush
has dubbed the United States 2008 Olympic athletes the “Ambassadors
of Liberty” and expects them to represent liberty-in-practice to the
rest of the world in Beijing, China, next month. Dr. “Jumpin” Johnny
Kline, representing a group of the former Harlem Globetrotters who
are among those that President Harry S. Truman’s administration
first labeled the “Ambassadors of Goodwill,” hopes that this year’s
Olympic Men’s Basketball team offers goodwill by using the Olympic
Games to bring attention to the men who blazed the way for their
professional success. The Black Legends of Professional Basketball,
a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that Kline founded, has a fund
established to assist the financial needs of 27 of the former Harlem
Globetrotters who are responsible for popularizing basketball around
the world, but the organization needs the current players’ help.
During the l950s, when the U.S. government was battling the
anti-American propaganda of communism, the Truman administration
realized that the country could benefit from the worldwide
popularity of the Harlem Globetrotterg. Therefore, the decision was
made to embrace the Trotters by giving them the moniker of
Ambassadors of Goodwill and formally assisting the team on its
Around the World Tour of 1952. This tour included 141 games played
in 168 days, from April 19 through October 3, while covering 51,000
miles. In comparison, the Ambassadors of Liberty will compete only
17 days, from August 8 through August 24, never leaving Beijing.
Kline, who played with the Trotters during the 1950s, also points
out the difficulty that these 27 men experienced in the 1940s and
1950s by saying, “These Harlem Globetrotters played under difficult
conditions, with segregated hotels and eating facilities, in most
towns and cities where they played. This meant that after a game,
the team had to travel in their old school bus up to 300 miles,
before finding a place that would accept them to eat and rest for
In addition to helping America advance its anti-communism agenda,
the Trotters did much for the development of the game of basketball.
While the NBA was unheard of overseas and struggling to stay alive
in America, the Trotters, on the other hand, were internationally
known and loved. The Globetrotters’ games and clinics, not the NBA
or Olympic Games, did the most to popularize and help develop the
game of basketball around the world. The countries of Argentina,
Australia, Croatia, Iran, Lithuania, Russia, Angola, China, Germany,
Greece, Spain, as well as the United States, the 12 countries whose
men’s teams will compete in this year’s Olympics, are amongst the
world’s countries that benefited from the performances and clinics
of the Harlem Globetrotters of the 1940s and 1950s.
And even though the 1952 trip was a smashing success for the U.S.
government, author Ben Green points out in his book Spinning the
Globe, that it wrapped up with a punch in the gut for the Trotters.
Disgustingly, two months after returning to the United States, a
scheduled game at Louisiana State University was canceled by the
school’s president who said that having blacks play in the school’s
gymnasium would destroy “our way of life.”
Well, it would seem that our way of life in America should include
honoring and supporting our pioneers and elders. This certainly
includes our basketball greats, like these 27 former Harlem
Globetrotters. In addition to suffering indignities like the one at
L.S.U. during their careers as Ambassadors of Goodwill, these
Globetrotters were never given a pension or health benefits for
their retirement years. Thanks to the Black Legends of Professional
Basketball, a fund does exist in their names; but the coffers are
next to empty. Time is running out for this aging group, which
recently lost two more men.
Kline wishes that these 27 men could have been the invited guests of
the men’s team at the opening ceremonies in Beijing; but since that
no longer appears to be a possibility, he is now hoping that the
Olympic Committee can unite these 27 men with the men’s team when
they return home after the games. By taking the time and effort to
recognize the contributions of these surviving Harlem Globetrotters
of the l940s and 1950s, the Ambassadors of Liberty will be providing
much needed publicity which can help increase financial donations to
the fund. The fund is essential to make it possible for these men to
be able to live the balance of their lives with dignity.
For further information about the Goodwill Fund, contact Dr. John
Kline at (615) 838-7330 or at
1. Hubert Ausbie, 2. Don Barnette, 3. Stanley Burrell, 4. Joe
Buckhalter, 5. Mel Davis, 6. David Gaines, 7. J.C. Gipson, 8. Carl
Green, 9. Chuck Holton, 10. Charles Hoxie, 11. Ernest Jones, 12.
13. Webster Kirksey, 14. John Issacs, 15. John Kline, 16. Al Price,
17. Charlie Primas, 18. Bobby Hall, 19.George Smith, 20. Harry
21. Herschell Turner, 22. Ernie Wagner, 23. Charles Ward, 24. Frank
Washington, 25. Bob Williams, 26. Johnny Wilson, and 27. Vertis