Harlem Globetrotters

Vs.

Minneapolis Lakers

February 19, 1948

 

I was eleven years old when the Harlem Globetrotters defeated the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers for the first time, in 1948. As a budding basketball fan growing up in Philadelphia, I remember the result being exciting news, yet I could not yet grasp the great cultural ramifications this unexpected victory of an all-black basketball team over an all-white, World Championship team would create in the years that followed. While mainstream, professional sports were still predominantly a foreign land to African Americans in the 1940s, holes were beginning to appear in the dike. The Globetrotters' win over the Lakers, combined with Jackie Robinson's headfirst slide over the color barrier in baseball, gave blacks a solid one-two punch against the cultural restraints that had previously bound them in the sports world. The Globetrotters showed the world that blacks could compete with whites on the basketball court, and do so in a way that entertained as well as inspired. The NBA was paying attention. Soon thereafter, Globetrotter Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton became the first African American to sign an NBA contract, joining the New York Knicks in 1950, with many others soon to follow.

 

-Bill Cosby from the forward to the book, Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters by Ben Green.

 

 

The Setting

 

Professional basketball was played in an entirely different landscape in the late 1940’s compared to the game today. The NBA has made basketball an international sensation. It has truly become a world game as evidenced by the gold medal achievements of foreign teams against US competition in the Olympic Games.

 

But, the game of basketball is truly an American phenomenon. Invented by a Canadian-born American physical education instructor in Springfield, MA in 1891, the game was not a pastoral affair, requiring large amounts of land to play. Basketball could be played indoors or out, in a small space, or large. Any schoolboy or girl could hang a makeshift hoop on the wall and use rolled up socks for a ball. For this reason, it became a urban game accessible to all in the early 1900’s. Immigrant populations and African American slave descendents embraced to game.

 

Professional basketball struggled in the first half of the 20th Century to gain respectability in the national sports arena. It was never as successful as baseball and football and, by 1948, it had still yet to evolve into the structured NBA as we know today. The predecessors of the modern NBA were Basketball Association of America. There had been earlier attempts to form professional leagues, the American Basketball League and the National Basketball League. The 1947 ABL finalist Baltimore Bullets moved to the BAA in 1948 and won the title. The 1948 NBL champion Minneapolis Lakers jumped over as well and won the 1949 title. On August 3, 1949, the BAA merged with the NBL, and the NBA was formed.

 

The most successful franchise of those early days were the Minneapolis Lakers. Led by the game's first dominant big man, George Mikan, the Lakers won six league titles (one in the NBL, one in the BAA, and four in the National Basketball Association). They were the NBA’s first dynasty.

 

Before the NBA, professional basketball was characterized by a successful traveling road show called the Harlem Globetrotters. Founded in Chicago in the late 1920’s and led to greatness by Jewish immigrant and entrepreneur, Abe Saperstein, the Globetrotters were an all black club whose game was characterized by basketball skill mixed with vaudevillian-style entertaining. Although a comedy act, the Globetrotters could play serious basketball if called upon to do so as evidenced by their participation in 1937 and 1940 in the World Professional Basketball Tournament, They were defeated by the other great black team of the early days, the New York Rens, in the semifinals in ’37, but won the world title in 1940 by defeating the Chicago Bruins in the championship game. So strong was the attraction and drawing power of the Globetrotters that the early NBA became dependent on them to participate in doubleheader billings to assure attendance.

 

The Lakers were in the early stages of their development and were struggling financially. Famed Chicago sports columnist, Arch Ward, had written that the Globetrotters were the best team in pro basketball and this had angered Minneapolis GM, Max Winter. He contacted Abe Saperstein and suggested a game between the two teams. It was agreed upon and the game would take place on February 19, 1948.

 

There were obvious racial overtones to the whole affair. The greatest white team in America vs. the greatest black team. For the players this fact took a backseat to the fact that they were in the middle of their respective seasons and were being asked to play in an exhibition contest of tremendous importance and one for which they would receive no extra pay.

 

The press of the day downplayed the racial aspect, as well. But, the game’s significance for racial reasons and in the development of modern professional basketball in the eyes of the public cannot be denied. Jackie Robinson had just completed his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the game would represent a showdown between two contrasting styles of play- the white style, of which the Lakers were the ultimate prototype, and the black style of hoops played by the Trotters. Conventional wisdom among white sportswriters was that the machine-like efficiency of the Lakers' half-court offense and their structured man-to-man defense would triumph over the "undisciplined" school-yard style of the Trotters. As game day approached, the bookies made the Lakers an 8 point favorite.

 

The Game

 

A wonderful summary of this game is given in the book,  Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters by Ben Green. According to Green:

 

Even though the game was held on a bitterly cold Thursday night, I7,823 fans showed up at Chicago Stadium. The crowd included more whites than blacks, but not many. "The whole South Side Chicago came out for the ball game," recalls Marques Haynes. The Lakers and Trotters matchup was actually the first game of a doubleheader, with the BAA's Chicago Stags and New York Knicks playing the nightcap, but there was no doubt which game the fans had come to see. In addition to those watching in the stadium, thousands more were listening on radio, as the game was being broadcast back to Minneapolis.

 

In the Trotters' locker room before the game, Abe gave a brief pep talk, then turned the floor over to player coach Babe Pressley, who laid out the game plan. The Globetrotters realized that there was no way Goose could handle Mikan one-on-one, as he was giving up seven inches and fifty pounds, so other players were going to have to sag on the Lakers' center, double-teaming him whenever he got the ball. Additionally, Pressley told them not to hesitate to foul Mikan hard and often. There was no "one-and-one" rule at that time, so a non-shooting foul drew only one shot.

 

The game plan, which had sounded plausible in the dressing room, fell apart completely when the game began. Mikan was stronger and quicker than the Trotters had expected, and he was simply overwhelming Goose, who had never been noted for his defensive prowess, even with an opponent his own size. The Lakers jumped out to a 9-2 lead, and were threatening to run away with the game. Pressley, known as the "Blue Ox" because of his great strength ("He'd make Muhammad Ali look like a little boy," teammate Sam Wheeler would say years later), was the Trotters' best defender, so he began switching off his man to help Goose, trying to deny Mikan the ball. But then Pollard started hitting from the baseline, and the Trotters fell further behind.

 

At halftime, the Lakers held a 32-23 lead, and it would have been worse if Marques Haynes and Ermer Robinson had not been scoring from outside. Mikan had put on an awesome display, racking up 18 points and completely embarrassing Goose, who had yet to score.

 

In the locker room at halftime, the Globetrotters realized that their game plan had failed miserably and they would have to come up with a new strategy, or they were doomed. One problem in the first half was that Abe had insisted that they run their trademark Globetrotters offense, with three players running a weave out front and working the ball into Goose. But Mikan was smothering Goose in the pivot, and even when Goose managed to get off a shot, he was ice cold. Babe Pressley and Marques Haynes spoke up, insisting that the Trotters abandon their standard offense and start pushing the ball, to take advantage of their speed, and shooting from outside, instead of trying to work inside against the taller Lakers. "We had a lot of good outside shooters," Marques recalls, "particularly Ermer Robinson, Wilbert King, and myself."

 

They made one other halftime adjustment. For the rest of the night, they were going to hammer George Mikan every time he touched the ball. It was a risky tactic, as Mikan was a 78 percent lifetime free-throw shooter, but the Trotters gambled that he couldn't hurt them any more at the foul line than he was from the field.

Both strategies worked. The Trotters started fast-breaking every time they got the chance, and when fast-break opportunities weren't there, Wilbert King, Ermer Robinson, and Marques Haynes started connecting from the outside. The Globetrotters began the third quarter with a 10-2 run, cutting the Lakers' lead to 34-32.

 

On defense, the hack attack against Mikan was taking its toll. "We were doing everything," Sam Wheeler recalled in a 1987 interview. "If we'd had hatchets in our hands, he would have had scars on him- they would have taken 100 stitches." Once, Mikan got so frustrated with Goose's pushing and shoving that he lost his temper. His old college coach, Ray Meyer, could see the explosion coming. "I was sitting at the scorer's table and Goose was really roughing up Mikan," he remembers. "I saw Mikan's face get real white and I thought, 'Omigod, here it comes,' and Mikan leveled Tatum with a vicious elbow."

 

The flagrant foul earned Mikan a technical, and the Trotters, sensing that they were getting to him, kept up the pressure. "When we fouled him, we fouled him hard," recalls Vertes Zeigler, who played a reserve role. "We said, 'If they're gonna call a foul, be sure to make him bleed.' And that's what we did. We went to beating on him and slapping them glasses off him." Ultimately, the Trotters rattled Mikan, and the usually reliable free throw shooter missed seven of eleven attempts from the line.

 

At the same time, Goose finally started having success against Mikan on offense, hitting for 9 points in the second half and helping the Trotters take their first lead, 38-36. But their strategy of fouling Mikan was starting to cost them dearly, as Goose, Babe Pressley, and Ducky Moore were all in foul trouble.

 

Shortly before the end of the quarter, there was a frightening moment in the game. Mikan and Marques Haynes went up together for a rebound, and as they wrestled for the ball in midair, Marques’s hands slipped off and he fell hard to the floor, landing flat on his back. He was able to continue playing, but a few minutes later the exact same thing happened again. This time, Marques hit the floor with a sickening thud, and Mikan landed on top of him. The two men lay sprawled in a heap on the floor. As Marques lay motionless on his back, not moving, the crowd fell silent, fearing a serious injury. Eventually, Marques was able to struggle to his feet and, despite being in obvious pain, refused to come out of the game.

 

The fourth quarter was a seesaw affair, with the lead repeatedly changing hands. The fans were on their feet for nearly the entire period, too excited to sit down. Marie Linehan, who was sitting at courtside, would say later, "I couldn't talk for a week, I screamed so hard."

 

With seven minutes to go, the Trotters led 50-48, but then Babe Pressley fouled out and was replaced by the old veteran Ted Strong, who was past his prime and too slow to contain Mikan. The Lakers surged back into the lead, 56-55, when Mikan hit another field goal, his twenty-third point of the night. Then, Wilbert King and Marques Haynes made consecutive baskets to send the Trotters back on top, 59-56. All night long, the outside shooting of Marques and Ermer Robinson, with 15 points apiece, and King, with 12, had kept the Trotters in the game.

 

There were two minutes left. Now, with the game on the line, the Lakers' two stars responded. Pollard hit a bucket to make it a one-point game, 59-58. The next time down the court, Mikan went up for one of his patented hook shots and Goose hacked him; the shot was good, which would have given the Lakers the lead, but referee Bill Downes ruled that Goose had fouled Mikan before the shot. Fortunately, the big man's woes continued at the foul line, as he missed the free throw, and the Trotters' fragile one-point lead still stood.

 

That was Goose's fifth foul, however, so he and Pressley were both out of the game, and now it was up to Sam Wheeler and Ted Strong to defend Mikan. Realizing they had a mismatch, the Lakers went right back to Mikan the next time they had the ball, and Wheeler had no choice but to foul him. This time, Mikan hit the free throw to tie the game.

 

Now there was a minute left. There was complete bedlam in the Stadium, as fans for both teams were standing and screaming. The Trotters brought the ball up the court. Some of their fans began yelling "Freeze the ball!"- preferring to run out the clock and go to overtime rather than possibly missing a shot and giving the Lakers another chance to win. But with Goose and Babe Pressley already on the bench, the Trotters did not want to risk an overtime. They were going to play to win.

 

The clock ticked down to thirty seconds, then twenty-five, twenty, fifteen . . .

 

In wartime, they say the first casualty in any battle is the truth, as the fog of war obscures what really happened. Today, fifty-seven years after this momentous battle in Chicago Stadium, there are at least three contradictory accounts of what transpired in the last few seconds. Not surprisingly, as the game has grown in significance over the years, some of the participants have placed themselves at the center of the action, and others now remember it differently than they once did.

 

 

In a 1987 interview, for instance, Sam Wheeler, who is now deceased, claimed that he had rebounded a missed shot, then passed the ball to Ermer Robinson, who "took two little pumps and let it go." Vertes Zeigler, who also played in the game, claims today that he snared the final rebound and passed the ball the Robinson, who "wound up and turned it loose." Big George Mikan has given two different accounts of the final play in two separate autobiographies. Even Marques Haynes, whose memory has proven remarkably accurate in many instances, has recounted slightly different versions of the last seconds. Today, his best recollection is that the final play began with him inbounding the ball on an out-of-bounds play under the Trotters' basket. "I passed it in to Wilbert King, and he passed it back to me," he says, "I dribbled around [the key], and Robbie [Ermer Robinson] and I made eye contact. I was going toward him and he was coming toward me, and I passed it to him, then set a fake screen on [Jim Pollard], who was defending him. And Robbie, as soon as he got the ball-Wham!- he let it go."

 

The only point that all accounts agree on is that the ball ended up in the hands of Ermer Robinson, the slender forward who was known as "Shaky" because of his nervous chain-smoking habit and morbid fear of airplanes. Robinson was a finesse player who disliked rough play under the boards, preferring to launch rainbow shots from outside. He had the purest outside shot of any Globetrotter since another skinny-legged shooter named Sonny Boswell, whom he slightly resembled.

 

Accounts differ about how far out Robinson was, but he was at least twenty feet, and perhaps as far as the NBA three-point line. He barely had time to set his feet and then let fly with a one-hand push shot- a transition between the traditional two-hand set and the new jump shot that was beginning to come into vogue. Abe Saperstein had never liked Robinson's one-hander, as Abe was a traditionalist who wanted his players to shoot the two-hand set he had grown up with. But now, in the last second of the most important game in the Trotters' history, it all came down to Robbie's one-hand push.

 

Robinson shot the ball on an incredibly high arc; it was a rain­maker that was still in the air when the final gun sounded. As the reverberation echoed through the stadium, there was a sense that time was standing still, as if the moment had been frozen by a photo strobe. Seventeen thousand people watched, their mouths agape, as the ball slowly descended out of the spotlights, spinning on its axis, and slipped silently through the net.

 

Some Laker players and coaches thought the shot was no good, that Robinson had released it after the buzzer, but the referee raised his arms, signaling that it was good. The Trotters had won, 61-59.

 

For a brief moment, there was a hush in the arena, as if people could not really believe that the Globetrotters had won. Then, as the Herald-American described it, the place "went mildly insane." People hugged complete strangers. The Trotters lifted Robinson onto their shoulders, carrying him off the court in triumph. "No story book game could have had any better finish," the Chicago Defender reported.

 

Most basketball insiders were surprised by the outcome. "I was shocked, even though I knew the Trotters were a very good team," says Ray Meyer. "I think the Lakers took them as a joke. Then they found out that they could play, and they took them serious [from then on]." The Lakers were stunned. "Our players couldn't believe what had happened," Max Winter later recalled. "They were devastated."

 

In the Trotters' locker room, there was jubilation and profound relief. The players hoisted a beaming Abe into the air, and he showed his delight with the win by handing out cash bonuses. George Mikan showed his class by stopping by to congratulate the victors. "One hell of a game guys," he said.

 

Most of the Trotters were going out to celebrate, but Marques Haynes was in such pain from his two horrendous falls that he went back to the Trotters' rooming house and went to bed. The next morning he could barely move and decided to go to the hospital, where X-rays confirmed that he had fractured the fourth lumbar vertebra. Amazingly, he had played the second half with a broken back. The doctors put him in a full body cast and he walked out of the hospital, but he was through for the season. He went home to Sand Springs, Oklahoma, to recuperate.

 

 

Articles

 

Chicago Tribune

February 20, 1948

 

The Harlem Globe Trotters thrilled 17, 823 last night in the Chicago Stadium by defeating the Minneapolis Lakers of the National Basketball League, 61-59. The final two points were scored on a long shot by Ermer Robinson as the gun ending the game went off as the ball was arching its way to the basket.

 

The lead changed hands several times and jostling and rough basketball was apparent throughout.

 

Goose Tatum, star of the Globe Trotters, went out on a foul a couple of minutes before the game ended. During his stay, he accounted for nine points, several the result of long passes from teammates on “sleeper” plays.

 

The Chicago Stags won the second game, defeating the New York Knickerbockers, 82-74 in a Basketball Association of America contest. The victory kept the Stags out of the Western Division cellar. Max Zaslofsky and Andy Phillip shared scoring honors for the Stags, the former counting for 26 points and the ex-Whiz Kid, 24.

 

Trotters (61)

 

Minneapolis (59)

 

Robinson

f

8-1-0

Carlson

f

1-1-4

Moore

f

0-0-4

Pollard

f

9-0-1

King

f

4-2-1

Jaros

f

1-0-1

Tatum

c

3-3-5

Napolitano

f

2-0-1

Wheeler

c

0-0-1

Mikan

c

10-4-4

Haynes

g

6-5-2

Dwan

g

1-0-3

Presley

g

3-2-5

Schaeffer

g

0-5-0

Ziegler

g

0-0-0

Smith

g

0-0-0

Strong

g

0-0-1

Jorgenson

g

0-1-2

 

 

No Laughing Matter

Time Magazine

March 1, 1948

 

The Harlem Globetrotters, pro basketballers, are so good that they spend most of their time playing for laughs. Up to last week they had won 101 games this season and lost none. Usually, they so far outclassed their opposition that spectators seldom glanced at the scoreboard. They paid to see the famed Negro team do their tricks (rolling the ball down their arms, through the enemy's legs, or lining up in formation like a football team). The team's star: Reece ("Goose") Tatum, whose huge hands dangle gorilla-fashion almost to his knees, and who handles a basketball the way most people handle an orange. The problem was to find a good enough team to make Tatum & Co. settle down to serious basketball.

 

Last week they found one- the Minneapolis Lakers, one of the best white pro teams in the U.S.A.-crowd of 17,823 jammed into Chicago Stadium to see the fun. At halftime, the Trotters were trailing 32-23, and blamed it on being "tensed up"; they had played five games in five nights and were a little tired. Goose Tatum wasn't having much luck against towering (6 ft. 9) George Mikan, the glamour boy of college basketball two years ago. But in the third quarter, Tatum and his mates began to loosen up.

 

Only once did the Trotters try any of their tricks. A Trotter rolled the ball between a Minneapolis player's legs to Tatum, who snatched up the ball, whirled and scored a basket. Otherwise they were too busy trying to hold off Mikan (reportedly a $15,000-a-year man), who scored 24 points.

 

With 90 seconds to play, Tatum was put out on fouls. The score was tied at 59-all and the crowd held its breath as the Globetrotters weaved nearer & nearer the basket. Just before the gun ended the game, the ball was flipped to dead-eye Ermer Robinson, who was in the clear. Ermer didn't miss. Score: Globetrotters 61, Minneapolis 59. Had they tried, the Trotters couldn't have written the script better.

 

The Aftermath

 

Part of the following is paraphrased from Green’s book:

 

Following the upset of 1948, the Lakers were pushing hard for a rematch. Many thought the Trotters’ win was a fluke and that the Lakers had simply taken them too lightly. They would have to wait a year for the rematch in Chicago Stadium on February 28, 1949. The Lakers had won the NBL and bolted to the BAA and would win that league’s championship in ’49.

 

The game drew in even larger crowd than the first one, with 20,046 people filling Chicago Stadium to capacity. Movietone News was there with a film crew, documenting the game for its weekly newsreel to be shown in theatres throughout the world (video).

 

Both teams were cold early and the Lakers led 24-18 at the half. The Trotters went on a 18-1 run in the third quarter. In the third period, the Trotters outscored the Lakers 23-6, to take a 41-32 lead into the final quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Trotters held a 12-point lead with six minutes to play. They began to clown and show their trademark razzle-dazzle. According to Green, ….The crowd was having a ball. A few minutes later, Goose (Tatum) again got the ball and started flailing his arms and waving the ball around. The crowd was really getting into it, and Mikan started enjoying the show himself. He let down his guard for an instant, and Goose whipped a pass right past his ear to Ermer Robinson, who went in for an easy layup. The final score was 49-45.

 

The first victory over the Lakers may have been more shocking, and certainly had a more spectacular ending, with Robinson's last-second shot, but to some of the Trotters' fans, the second win was more satisfying.

 

Article

 

20,046 See Lakers Lose to Trotters

BY ROBERT CROMIE

Chicago Tribune

 

The Harlem Globetrotters last night repaid the 20,046 fans who fought their way into the Stadium by defeating the Minneapolis Lakers, 49 to 45, overcoming a six point deficit at the half with 23 points in the third period. In the first game, the Chicago Stags lost to the Washington Capitols, 67 to 57, in a Basketball Association of America contest.

 

The great Negro team, extending its season's winning streak to 111 games, had trouble finding the range early in the game and the Lakers led, 8 to 1, after five minutes and 24 to 18 at the half.

 

The Globetrotters, usually deadly from the free throw line, missed nine of their 11 tosses in the first two periods.

 

Herman Schaefer made the first score of the third period to put the Lakers ahead, 26 to 18, and then the Globetrotters caught fire, pouring in six straight baskets, allowing the Lakers one free throw, then making three more baskets. They led, 41 to 32, as the period ended.

 

In the final period the Globetrotters went into their famous ball-handling routine, and even though the Lakers made the last nine points of the contest, there was virtually no doubt of the outcome at any time in the quarter.

 

The Trotters found Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton a fine answer to George Mikan's height. Mikan, basketball’s highest paid performer, made only 4 field goals and 11 free shots to grab point scoring honors for the night with a total of 19. "Goose" Tatum paced the Trotters with seven field goals while Marques Haynes, Mercury-footed forward, sparked the Globetrotters offense through the game.

 

The Lakers were handicapped by the absence of Jim Pollard and Don Carlson, first string forwards, both benched because of injuries.

 

It was a great show and proved without a doubt that no team can claim the professional basketball championship without first contending with the Globetrotters.

 

Monday night's crowd made a total of 31,000 people before whom the Trotters have played in their last three games. The victory was the Trotters' second over Minneapolis. A year ago they won, 61 to 59, on a last second basket. The two teams will meet again March 14 in Minneapolis.

 

Trotters (49)

 

Minneapolis (45)

 

Robinson

f

3-0-0

Ferrin

f

2-3-2

Haynes

f

5-1-1

Jaros

f

0-2-2

Gee

f

0-0-0

Foreman

f

3-0-0

Moore

f

0-0-0

Mikan

c

4-11-12

Clifton

c

5-1-6

Jorgenson

c

1-0-0

Presley

g

3-1-6

Gardner

g

0-0-0

Tatum

g

7-0-4

Dwan

g

1-1-4

Cumberland

g

0-0-2

Schaeffer

g

3-0-1

Wheeler

g

0-0-0

Kechan

g

0-0-1

 

 

The Other Meetings

 

As the 1950’s arrived, the Lakers continued to dominate in the newly formed NBA as the fledgling league’s early dynasty. And, with the new NBA came integration. It may well have come earlier had it not been for Saperstein, who had lobbied heavily against it as a threat to his Globetrotter organization. But, the times had changed and and that change was inevitable. The Lakers and Trotters met 6 more times through the 1958 season, with the Lakers winning all of those meetings.

 

The Minneapolis Lakers vs. Harlem Globetrotters Series Results

 

February 19, 1948

Chicago Stadium

Globetrotters 61, Lakers 59

February 28, 1949

Chicago Stadium

Globetrotters 49, Lakers 45

March 14, 1949

Chicago Stadium

Lakers 68, Globetrotters 53

February 21, 1950

Chicago Stadium

Lakers 76, Globetrotters 60

March 20, 1950

Chicago Stadium

Lakers 69, Globetrotters 54

February 23, 1951

Chicago Stadium

Lakers 72, Globetrotters 68

January 2, 1952

Chicago Stadium

Lakers 84, Globetrotters 60

January 3, 1958

Chicago Stadium

Lakers 111, Globetrotters 100

 

Articles

 

March 14, 1949

 

NEW YORK (AP)- George Mikan, towering center of the Minneapolis Lakers, Tuesday had the Basketball Association of America's individual scoring title virtually wrapped

 

Mikan tops the circuit in scoring with 1586 points, 128 more than runner-up Joe Fulks of the Philadelphia Warriors has netted. The Lakers’ star and Fulks both four games left to play

 

Chicago's Max Zarlofsky is the only other player to collect one thousand or more points. He is third with 1113.

 

The Lakers dumped the Harlem Globe Trotters, 68 to 53, in an exhibition game, the only action involving BAA teams Monday night. The Globe Trotters dropped their second game in 121 before 10,122 persons.

 

 

February 21, 1950 

By ROBERT CROMIE

Chicago Tribune

 

CHICAGO- George Mikan and his fabulous Minneapolis Lakers appearing last week before the nation’s greatest basketball crowd, defeated the Harlem Globe Trotters, 76-60.

 

Mikan, recently acclaimed the greatest eager of the half century, proved his claim to that title as he dropped in 36 points, including 15 free throws in a row.

 

A fantastic crowd of 21,666 paying customers jammed the aisles, seats and ceiling of the Chicago Stadium to see the two most popular teams in basketball play each other for the fourth time in the past three years. This is reported to be the largest crowd ever to see a basketball game, breaking last year’s record of 20,046 fans, who saw the game in the stadium.

 

With the huge 6 feet, 10 inches of basketball might, Mikan, at the throttle, the Lakers from the North steamed through Abe Saperstein's Globe Trotters with comparatively little opposition. Mikan, leaving the game three minutes before the final whistle, received a tremendous ovation from the great crowd.

 

This game evened the series between the two glamour teams of the basketball court on two victories each. They will meet again sometime this month in Minneapolis.

 

The story of the game is really the story of the unbelievable ef­ficiency of the Lakers trio, Mi­kan, Jim Pollard and Vern Mikkelsen, particularly in making points and covering the backboard. Mikkelsen tallied 13 points and Pollard 12.

 

For the Globe Trotters, it was a sad night as Reece “Goose” Tatum was ill and played with little efficiency and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the team’s playmaker and chief scoring threat fouled out early in the second half.

 

This defeat stopped their winning streak at 111 games. The Globe Trotters will hit the road once more to begin a new winning streak. They will face tough competition with a series of games against a group of graduating college all-stars. They can hardly wait until they get their second chance at the Lakers this season.

 

The Lakers will continue as leaders of the central division of the National Basketball As­sociation where they hold a comfortable lead. Their victory over the Trotters was one of the most one-sided ever scored against them.

 

 

 

For the Trotters in 1950, the formula was simple: harass and contain the giant Mikan. In the pre-NBA era and the early NBA, this match up was the pinnacle of the pro game.

 

 

March 20, 1950

 

St. Paul, Minn, March 20 (AP)- The Minneapolis Lakers tonight defeated the Harlem Globe Trotters, 68-54, before 9,807 spectators here, the largest crowd ever to attend a pro basketball game in the twin cities.

 

The Lakers romped to a 37-28 lead at the midway point of the exhibition game and were never in danger. Marquis Haynes counted 23 points for the losers and George Mikan had 21 for the Lakers

 

Tonight's loss and their defeat by the same quint in Chicago last month were the only setbacks the Trotters have suffered this season in 111 contests to date.

 

 

February 23, 1951

 BY ROBERT CROMIE

Chicago Tribune

 

George Mikan last night beat the Harlem Globe Trotters, 72 to 68, before an overflow crowd of 18,500 in the Chicago Stadium. The towering pivot man for the Minneapolis Lakers poured in a total of 47 points before he left the game on six personals with a minute and a half remaining.

 

The defeat, to which the absence from the Trotters' lineup of the injured Reese [Goose] Tatum may have been a contributing factor, snapped a 116 game winning streak for the Globe Trotters. The Lakers, who now have won four of their six games with the Trotters over a three year period, ended a string of 113 triumphs for the Trotters a year ago in the Stadi­um.

 

Mikan netted 14 baskets and 19 free throws of the 21 baskets and 30 free throws made by the Lakers as a team. The Trotters, mean­while, sank 25 baskets from the floor and added 18 from the free throw line. The Lakers missed five of their free throw attempts and the Trotters nine.

 

The great Negro learn took a quick lead on the Lakers, cham­pions of the National Basketball Association, and were ahead 13 to 5 before Mikan made the first basket for the Lakers at 7:40. He added two more in quick succes­sion and the period ended 14 to 11, with 9 of the 11 points ac­counted for by big George.

 

Ermer Robinson, Marques Haynes, and Bill (Rookie) Brown poured in 11 fast points to open the second period while Mikan was making a lone basket. This put the Trotters in front 25 to 13, their largest edge of the evening. Mikan went to work to complete a 20 point first half total, but at intermission the Trotters led, 37 to 29.

 

In the third period, with the score 41 to 34, Mikan made four easy layups and a free throw to tie the score for the first time. The Trotters never regained the lead.

 

In the opening game, the Chicago Majors beat the New York Rens, 62 to 55.

 

 

January 2, 1952

BY ROBERT CROMIE

Chicago Tribune

 

The answer to the riddle of how to stop George Mikan eluded the Harlem Globe Trotters last night, as it has nearly everyone else in the last several years, and the towering Lakers handed the great Negro team an 84 to 60 defeat, the worst in their perennial series.

 

The nation's largest pro basketball crowd of the season, an over­flow throng of 20,864, witnessed the uneven contest, second game of a Chicago Stadium double header. The New York Knickerbockers won the National Basket­ball Association opener from the Milwaukee Hawks, 89 to 67.

 

The tremendous height advantage of the Lakers put the Trotters in roughly the same shooting position as though they were aiming from the bottom of a well. On numerous occasions, the Minneapolis tall boys blocked shots as they were on the way up.

 

Mikan and company- whose triumph halted a Globe Trotter string of 76 straight victories- wasted little time in showing who was boss, as they ran up an 11 to 0 lead and held a 16 point advantage at the end of the first period. During that time Mikan (6 feet 10) and Vern Mikkelsen (6 feet 7) netted 21 of the Lakers' 30 points, Mikan scoring 12.

 

The Lakers led at the half, 45 to 26, and despite the efforts of the Trotters to work into the basket during the second half, they never were able to narrow the gap any closer than 13 points.

 

With the exception of the eight baskets scored by Slater Martin, tremendously fast and a fine dribbler, the pattern of the game remained the same. The Lakers would pass to Mikan or Mikkelsen at the pivot posts and a basket would follow. The Lakers controlled at least 95 per cent of their own rebounds, tipping many in for cheap baskets.

 

The Trotters, meanwhile, with only one regular as tall as 6 ft. 4, wouldn't have had much more trouble working their way through barbed wire so far as close in shots went, and the skyscraper guarding of the Lakers made their usually accurate set shots far more inaccurate than usual.

 

Reece (Goose) Tatum, the Trotters' great zany, led his team with 13 points and only some amazing gyrations enabled him to get that many.

 

 

January 3, 1958

BY RICHARD DOZER

Chicago Tribune

 

The Minneapolis Lakers, basement team in the National Basketball association's west­ern division, brought their own ball, their own rules, and a pair of N.B.A. officials to Chicago Stadium last night, but had their hands full beating the fabled Harlem Globe Trotters.

 

A crowd of 11,033 saw the Trotters, unable to clown, fall 17 points behind early in the second half, then rally to take a four point lead before losing, 111 to 100, under pro rules which give the fan little more than a continual parade to the free throw line.

 

It was free throws which cost the Trotters dearly. Abe Saperstein's Chicago based world tourists missed 12 of their first 15 using the pros' ball which is the same size but structurally different from the college ball used by the losers.

 

The Lakers made 15 more first half free throws than the Trotters while plodding to a 13 point intermission lead. Jim Krebs, the Southern Methodist rookie, led the Minnesotans’ way into command, making 13 of 18 Laker points in one five minute stretch.

 

Minneapolis moved to a 63 to 46 lead in the first two minutes of the third 12 minute quarter.

 

A team of Milwaukee Braves baseball players scored a 43 to 32 triumph over a collection of Chicago newspaper men and radio performers, who were aided liberally by such former basketball stars as Irv Bemoras of Illinois, Harvey Babetch of Bradley, Mickey Rottner of Loyola, George Leddy of DePaul, and Johnny Conlon, who was bantamweight boxing champion of the world in 1909.

 

 

The Future

 

After defeating the greatest professional basketball team of the era in 1948 and 1949, the Globetrotters made an emphatic public statement that the professional basketball needed to be racially integrated. When the New York Knicks signed Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton away from the Trotters in 1950, the handwriting for the future was on the wall. It would become increasingly more difficult for the organization to attract top African-American talent.

 

The Globetrotters would, however, go on to continued greatness in the 1950's with a much publicized traveling series against the College All-Stars, a annual collection of the best college players in the US. But, the balance of power had shifted and the power now rested with the NBA. It has continued to be the dominant force in US and world basketball to this day. The Trotters began a slow decline that bottomed out in the early 1990’s. But, with new visionary ownership in the person of former Trotter, Mannie Jackson, they have returned in recent years to their past glory and competitive roots.

 

Today, they are capable of challenging and defeating the finest the NCAA has to offer. According to John Christgau, in his book, Tricksters in the Madhouse: Lakers vs. Globetrotters, 1948, in November, 2003, Kenny Smith, the NBA analyst for TNT television, was sitting courtside with Mannie Jackson, watching the Trotters completely manhandling the Syracuse Orangemen, the reigning NCAA champs. “Mannie, right now you’d be the sixth or seventh seed in the (NBA’s) Eastern Division,” Smith said.

 

The Harlem Globetrotters, known as more for their minstrelty than their talent, had established themselves as the class of the pre-NBA basketball establishment. They had brought black talent into the public eye and had sped up the integration of the game, although it proved to be their undoing. On a February night in 1948, with the sports world on the verge of integration of all major sporting leagues in the US, the Globetrotters had done what the Negro Leagues in baseball never had the chance to do. They had competed with the best the white leagues had to offer in their sport and had proven themselves to be the champions of professional basketball in their era. They had done it with power, finesse, a superior game plan, and a miracle, last second shot.

 

Christgau writes, Goose Tatum summed it up this way:

 

“It’s God will,” said Tatum. “It’s the only way to look at it. It’s God’s will. And you don’t question that.”

 

 

 

 

The majority of the information on this page comes from the definitive book on the history of the Harlem Globetrotters written by Ben Green.

 

RETURN