TV One’s series Unsung Hollywood, which shines a spotlight on prominent African American stars from the world of film like The Harlem Globetrotters movie poster (above), television, comedy and sports, telling the stories that have rarely or never been told. The episode airing on Wednesday, April 16 at 10 pm ET is focused on the Harlem Globetrotters, and their irrepressible, controversial owner Abe Saperstein. They didn’t just invent a new way of playing the game but served as pioneers, blurring the lines between sports and entertainment while breaking entrenched racial barriers. By dribbling their multi-colored ball all over the globe, they introducing basketball to the world in a way that was never witnessed before.
Five decades before Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” Lakers, Michael Jordan’s “highlight” moves, and the gravity-defying dunks of Dr. J, there were the Harlem Globetrotters. Born in 1927, the team took a stodgy game of controlled, plodding low-scoring basketball and turned it into a highlight reel of fast-paced, free-flowing, improvised action that set the template for today’s NBA. The Globetrotters’ early black players were prophets without honor in their own land, worshipped by adoring white audiences in large arenas but denied access to hotels and restaurants after their games. In later years, the iconic squad was the target of criticism from black audiences put off by the organization’s growing clowning and minstrel act. Today, they are still a phenomenon, touring non-stop with a sleek act targeting young audiences. Their story is a mesmerizing mix of racial progress and setbacks, soaring wins and crushing defeats, all packed into this revealing episode of a basketball squad that changed sports, society and entertainment forever – unbeatable, unstoppable, unsung.