The Harlem Globetrotters: Uniting a Divided World - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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January 23, 2019

The Harlem Globetrotters: Uniting a Divided World

 

What better place for a professional basketball team to compete than the birthplace of college basketball? On February 5, 2019, the internationally renowned Harlem Globetrotters will hit Geneva’s courts combining athleticism, theater and comedy as they play on the historic site that set college basketball in motion (get tickets). With a long tradition in the sport, Geneva College organized the first game of college basketball in February of 1892. Founded in 1926, the Harlem Globetrotters’ history is every bit as rich, showcasing their iconic talents in over 26,000 exhibition games in 123 countries and performing for millions of fans including popes, presidents, kings and queens.

Entertainment is the name of the game when it comes to the Harlem Globetrotters. While on the court, the squad performs basketball tricks and stunts while adding a flavor of humor to their impressive feats. Pioneers of popularizing the fast break, slam dunk, forward and point guard position, and figure-eight weave, it comes as no surprise that this team features some of the most exceptional ball handlers, Guinness World Record holders and elite dunkers in the world. Oftentimes, the Globetrotters compete against a second team, commonly known as the Generals, that almost inevitably loses. Although they seldom interfere with the Globetrotter’s antics, these games are real with the Generals defeating the Globetrotters six times since 1952. They have also competed against and beat the Syracuse Orange, the defending collegiate National champion in 2003, and they have won multiple World Championships. Clearly, the Globetrotters offer more than just a show; they are a real team of highly skilled players.

Besides expanding the techniques and skills underlying the game of basketball, the Harlem Globetrotters brought a unity of race, gender and class, unprecedented in The United States. In 1926 when the team was founded, America was divided by discrimination. Black Americans suffered under the prejudices of racism with unemployment, legal injustices and inequality running rampant. In the aftermath of the Women’s Rights Movement, white women were struggling for equal rights; tack on racism to this gender discrimination and it’s easy to see that black women faced even more obstacles. In the midst of hostility, the Harlem Globetrotters quickly became a beacon of joy and equality, bringing unification to a fragmented culture.

The team is entirely African-American, comprised mostly of players who could not find NBA jobs or high-paying European gigs in more serious leagues. At its origin, black men were not allowed to play on white teams. In 1985, two female players were signed to the team, making them the first American female professional basketball players. As they gained popularity, the number of white spectators increased. In 1950, Nathaniel Clifton became the first African-American player to sign an NBA contract, and when Mannie Jackson purchased the team in 1993, he became the first African-America to own a major international sports and entertainment organization. Over the years, they have been aired on national television networks, players have been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and honorary members have been named including Pope Francis. The harsh lines between white and black, men and women were dissipating.

The team’s mission is spreading joy around the world through the game of basketball, a goal that this team has achieved and transcended. The Harlem Globetrotters brought unity to a divided world. They provided a place where white and black could come together, forget their differences, and focus on the beauty of similarity. Through the sharing of common interests – the widespread passion for sports, the universal love of competition, the global gift of humor – this team of African American individuals showed that we have more in common than we realized. Instead of a clearly labeled black and white water fountains, the labels fell away as white spectators enthusiastically cheered and supported black and sometimes, female athletes. With lines disappearing, the white viewer was enabled to take a new perspective and see the blacks as God saw them – talented, skilled, hardworking, loving individuals with the same goals, dreams, passions, interests, and abilities as themselves.

What a beautiful picture of redemption this team brought to a country seared by prejudice. Christ came to save the whole world, all races, tribes, and nations, and Christians are called to love their neighbors, all genders and peoples. With a foundation on Scripture and Christ as the cornerstone, Geneva College aims with all its power to follow this call. Throughout its history, Geneva has sought to imbue its campus with the same equality, unity, and love exemplified through the Harlem Globetrotters. During the Civil War, Geneva Hall in Northwood, the original Geneva building, was strategically located on the Underground Railroad. In the mid-nineteenth century, a freed slave was the first African American to graduate from Geneva College. The institution has also been concerned for women since its beginning, starting a Female Seminary only three years after Geneva Hall opened, and in 1870, the first female African American female graduated from Geneva College.

Just like the Harlem Globetrotters, Geneva College has served to break down barriers and build unity among all races and genders. Whether through academics, athletics, business, etc., the Globetrotters and Geneva have shown that all men are created equal with talent, abilities and common interests in every sphere of life. Whether male or female, black or white all can contribute to society and bring around the restoration of the creation of which mankind stewards. With lines erased, barriers crushed, and differences forgotten, may all come together and celebrate their similarities as humans created in the image of God. In the words of the critic from Disney’s “The Greatest Showman,” may the Harlem Globetrotters and Geneva College continue to bring “folks of all kinds [together]…presenting them as equals...a celebration of humanity.”

The Harlem Globetrotters take the court of Geneva’s Metheny Fieldhouse on Tuesday, February 5, 2019.

Geneva College is a Christ-centered academic community with 18 NCAA Division III athletic teams for men and women and over 115 majors and programs. To learn more, contact the Admissions Office at 800-847-8255 or admissions@geneva.edu.

-Olivia Forton ‘19