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The roots of Harlem

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Remember how, when you were a kid, there was nothing like a brand-new pair of tennis shoes? Just slipping your toes inside made you sure that you could jump higher, run faster and play better.Today, you’re probably going to pay premium prices for “tennis” shoes, particularly if you want to play basketball in them. That’s okay. Who doesn’t want to jump higher, run faster and play better?Once upon a time, there was a basketball team that played better than most, but the members weren’t as famous as the guys you see in your newspaper. In “Spinning the Globe” by Ben Green (c.2005, Amistad / Harper Collins), you’ll read about what could be the best basketball team ever to step on a court.In the early part of the last century, the African American population of Chicago was booming. Entire families moved to a part of Chicago that many called Bronzeville. There, young boys learned to play basketball, and they learned it well.The team was born on Chicago’s South Side, despite that “Harlem” was part of their moniker. Harlem itself had nothing to do with the team’s name; it only indicated the race of the players on the team, since New York’s Harlem was then an important hub of African American culture.During the first years of the Harlem Globetrotters, the team traveled from town to town, packed in a Model T with no heat. They sometimes played on consecutive evenings in venues 200 miles or more apart, making as little as $1.60 each, for a night’s worth of entertaining.And entertain they did. No one who watched a Globetrotters game could forget The Magic Circle, when the ball moved almost faster than the eye could follow. No one who heard “Sweet Georgia Brown” could forget to whom the theme belonged.Through decades of delighting fans, though, not all was rosy within Globetrotters camp. Over the years, there was jealousy, womanizing, drugs and debt, and some players complained that the show had too much of a “minstrel” feel. What’s more, fans and sports writers began to notice the same thing.When you pick up this book, you might think that it’s only about The Harlem Globetrotters, but that’s not all you’ll find inside. Author Ben Green dribbles a lot of history in with the Globetrotters’ story, and his descriptions of small-town Depression-era America are so vivid that you almost feel like you were there last week. Green also re-creates a time when laws decreed that a white basketball fan could not sit in the same building as a black basketball fan while watching an all-black team play a game against an all-white team.Be aware that there are stats and game descriptions which can become tedious if you’re not much of a basketball fan, but the history that you’ll read in this book makes it worth your time. If you’ve ever seen the Globetrotters in action, though, or if you’re a basketball fan, then “Spinning the Globe” is a sure shot. VT


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