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The Globetrotters: Playing Hard And Working Poor

The Harlem Globetrotters have attracted huge audiences, including one with the Pope. They’ve campaigned to reduce child poverty. Yet players faced discrimination and a life of poverty, some even living and dying on the street.

From their theme song – Sweet Georgia Brown by Brothers Bones – to their big plays and bigger personas, everything about the Harlem Globetrotters was created to entertain, to put a smile on your face. Still, there are little known facts about the franchise that leave fans frowning.

Most have experienced the hype of the Harlem Globetrotters, matched by their superior skills on the court, but few know of the racism and the poverty that players endured throughout their careers.

The Harlem Globetrotters have attracted huge audiences, including an audience with the Pope. They appeared in front of the United Nations. And one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations, World Vision, partnered with the Globetrotters on an initiative to improve the lives of children living in poverty. Yet, one of the most popular franchises in sport saw its world-class talent mistreated, living in poverty and some, eventually, even living on the street.

For a while, Globetrotters forward Johnny Kline was homeless. Another forward, Ruben Bolen died homeless. Bolen was stabbed to death on the streets of San Francisco.

On and off the court, players were often victims, mostly of racism. In an article entitled, ‘The Harlem (Actually Chicago) Globetrotters’, Daniel Hautzinger of PBS television station WTTW in Chicago wrote, “Those same audiences, surprised and delighted by the Globetrotters’ fast-break style, often shunned the black players after the game, despite the joy they got from watching them play.”

In a story in ‘The Undefeated’, journalist Sharon Brown reports, “The players provided entertainment, but they were often reminded that they were black men and suffered experiences that plagued other African-Americans.” The article continues, “Once the basketball games were over, they were prohibited from eating at certain restaurants, turned away from hotels because many were designated as “whites-only” and were even falsely accused of robbery.”