Through the hazy looking glass of myopic hindsight, the Harlem Globetrotters have long been perceived as a wholly orchestrated show, but Portsmouth native author Dick Burdette says nothing could be further from the truth and he has put it all down in his new book, “The Lives, Times and Glory Days of The Harlem Globetrotters 1946 to 1963.”
“The triumph of the story is that these guys were all first class people,” Burdette said. “They were just wonderful people.”
Burdette will be signing copies of his book Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Market Street Cafe, 3 to 5 p.m. at the Portsmouth Public Library and Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon again at the Portsmouth Public Library.
“I went around the country several years ago interviewing Marcus Hanes, the dribbler for the Harlem Globetrotters in the 40s 50s and 60s,” Burdette said. “I interviewed a dozen of them (Globetrotters). I went to all their hometowns like Dallas and Little Rock and Philadelphia.”
Burdette said the players came up from good solid families who were poor and had to travel from city to city to play the game of basketball.
“I wanted to find out what it was like when they weren’t on the court,” Burdette said. “When the lights went out, they were just 12 black men on the bus going across the segregated America.”
Burdette said the players couldn’t stay in white hotels and white restaurants and couldn’t even go to white theaters unless they sat in the balcony.
Burdette said the Globetrotters were exploited by their management. He said they were used in endorsements, but were not paid and they had no retirement program.
Right alongside any history of the Globetrotters are always photographs with their coach and manager, Abe Sapperstein. Burdette says it was not what it appeared to the public to be.
“The idea that (creator) Abe Sapperstein did the black people a big favor is nonsense,” Burdette said. “That’s the way these guys tell it.”
“They were in a 1951 movie called ‘The Harlem Globetrotters,’” Burdette said. “The book signing is at 3 (p.m.) o’clock and I’m going to begin right at 3 o’lock with the movie.”
Burdette used that particular time frame of 46-63 because up until that time there were probably 2-3 all white professional leagues, including the NBA.
“There were no black players. It was segregated,” Burdette said.
Burdette told of one instance in which the nationally-known Minneapolis Lakers featuring George Mikan, won several titles. However, during that time, they played the Harlem Globetrotters twice and the Globetrotters won both games including a game in Chicago Stadium in 1948.
“They (Globetrotters) were the best basketball team in the world,” Burdette said. “They were not just this dog and pony show they are now, because there was no place else for a black player to go. Sapperstein would hold tryouts in Chicago every year and he would draw anywhere from 300 to 400 players and he would pick out the best 12. He had a total monopoly on black basketball players.”
Burdette said the Globetrotters became a show when many of the best basketball players were able to join the NBA, but in their early years, they were the best team in America.
Burdette, who has written several books about Scioto County events including unsolved murders, also wrote what is considered to be the definitive book on the legendary Waterloo Wonders basketball team.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.