The first modern white Globie will be, one fervently hopes, a credit to his race; he will surely get a lot of ink. The Globetrotters (in Saperstein's day, anyway) have always been in the news, making headlines whenever they land in an exotic new country. Unfortunately for them, now that a man has hit a golf ball on the moon and the World Hockey Association has put a franchise in Winnipeg, wirephoto headquarters no longer go on standby alert just because the Ambassadors of Goodwill have touched down in Luxembourg.
But for old times' sake, here is a compendium to boggle your mind: the Globetrotters have gone completely around the globe on three occasions and have traveled more than six million miles. They have played before 75 million people who, if stacked end to end, would stretch from Waycross, Ga. to Mars and back to Provo, Utah. Once, in Berlin, the Globies performed before the largest basketball crowd ever—75,000—which is many more folks than live in Bangor, Maine, not to mention the whole Standard Metropolitan Area of Laredo, Texas. The Harlem Globetrotters have played in 89 countries (for a complete list, send 25� for handling and a large, self-addressed envelope to...). The last country they graced was New Caledonia, and they are running low on nations, which is why the management is a little ticked off with President Nixon because he didn't send the Globies to Red China instead of two musk oxen. The team has had five papal audiences, tying a record presumably held by Georgie Jessel. The Globetrotters also have met the late, great Nikita Khrushchev and the Duke of Edinburgh. They have played in bullrings, fish markets, airplane hangars and in the bottom of a drained swimming pool. They have performed in 100� heat and at 22 below. They have played in 1,341 different U.S. towns and cities. In 1969 they even got around to playing a game in Harlem.
Nowadays the Globetrotter travel style has all the romance of a drive on the New Jersey Turnpike. Everything is always the same: the reems, the scores, the buses, the airplanes, the opponents, the cassette tapes. Globetrot? Hardly. Instead, like Japanese tourists, they appear to be shipped.
In the States, where the Globies play an unrelenting schedule of one-nighters from October to April (four days off at Christmas), the team travels almost exclusively in a special bus. Most of the seats have been removed so that the players have leg room, and there are a refrigerator, toilet and card table aboard. The bus never stops between game sites. For amusement, the Globetrotters engage in endless games of bid whist, which they play in set pairs. Lemon carries a log-book that is periodically updated to show complete bid-whist standings: wins, losses and games behind. This is the real competition in their lives.
The International Unit, the one led by Ausbie and Showboat Hall, often goes abroad in the winter, and every spring a combined unit plays Europe for a couple of months. The routine is so well orchestrated that one evening this past June between games of a doubleheader in Naples the players complained because the caterers had supplied them with a dinner consisting of half a chicken and fresh fruit instead of their customary complete hot meal. By now, this is considered roughing it.
Since the strike, the minimum salary has nearly doubled to $13,200, and the average is $29,000. The players make double pay for doubleheaders and hard courts. They stay in private rooms in first-class hotels. By contrast, the opposition team, which travels in a VW bus and station wagon, must double up in hotels and make only what the Globies call "teacher's salary"—$7,000 to $10,000.
The Opposition is variously disguised as the Washington Generals (everybody's favorite), New York Nationals, Jersey Reds, Boston Shamrocks (but never in London), Atlantic City Gulls or Chicago Demons, but the Globies refer to them simply as the Opposition.
In Europe everybody travels together, a spectacular Babel of about 35 persons, including Globies, Opposition, an ever-changing group of other acts that make up the full bill, various wives and children and sundry support troops. The Globetrotters always sit in the front of the bus, Lemon in the seat directly behind the driver. Farther back last summer were Rinaldo and Mario, the announcers; Bob Ashley and Darryl Flann, the table-tennis pros; The Great Leonardo, a little guy who spins plates; Vino Venito, a sword balancer who looks like Count Dracula, and his wife Carol, a Philadelphia girl: the Kalbris, an Italian family of tumblers; Trio Biarge, a Spanish family of jugglers; Ron Stjernholm, the trainer; Joe Celentano, a retired chief petty officer, who is the referee; J.C. Gipson, a retired Globie who is the prop man; and Tom Brennan, a retired member of the Opposition who is in charge of the tour.
There were cameras strapped about their necks and gaily colored shopping bags full of presents for home but, unlike other tourists, the Globies have seen it all before. They are not searching out the unique, but falling back on the familiar. "Hey, B.J.," Jerry Venable called to Mason and his wife Joy as soon as the players, preregistered, picked up their keys at their hotel in Naples, "you gonna eat up on the hill or down in the alley? That was the only decision to be made—at which of the two Globetrotter-certified restaurants to eat. And at Umberto, down in the alley, the players greeted old friends on the staff and began ordering precisely the same dishes they dined on a year ago.
"Traveling is altogether different now," says Brennan, who has been with the Globies since he got out of Villanova 20 years ago. Efficient and imperturbable, he once managed to take the Globetrotters and the Opposition from Innsbruck, Austria to Athens, Greece without a single member of the group having a ticket or a passport in his possession. "You used to be able to bull your way through," Brennan says, "but now everybody is traveling and you have to sweettalk to get anything done."