My father started the story-telling tradition for our clan. Some things he told were taradiddles (stories including truth and fiction), but other narratives came straight out of the humorous realities he replayed whenever he had an audience. From childhood, Dad amazed us with his recollection of playing against the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1930’s in Yarmouth, Iowa. I never thought to question Dad’s thrill of a lifetime; after all if he said it, it must be the truth? Sometime in my adulthood, people began to question the veracity of the story and that ticked me off. So, I set out to document his tale. I am still looking, but I have found enough circumstantial evidence to keep his recollection teetering on a wall between truth and fiction.
The Globetrotter’s began their march to fame in Chicago in 1926 when Abe Saperstein formed a team of black basketball stars named the “Savoy Big Five.” My dad would have been nine years old at the time. The first team included people like Bill “Ham” Watson and Walter “Toots” Wright. The team name was changed to the Harlem New York Globetrotters and began touring to seek worthy opponents. They arrived in a Model “T” Ford in Hinckley, Illinois, for their debut game in 1927 in front of 300 fans. The total game payout was $75. From there they toured Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa into the 1930’s and gained more and more credibility and fame. They played their 1,000th game in 1934, meaning they approximately played 120 games a year in a variety of cities and small towns in the mid-west. It seems more than possible that one of those small towns could have been Yarmouth and if so, Dad would have been at the front of the line to play. He would have been seventeen and in the prime of his high school basketball career. In May of 2012 I asked Uncle Major, my dad’s brother, (age 95) if he had any recollection of the Globetrotters in Yarmouth. And, without blinking he said, “Yeah, I remember them smoking cigarettes and eating candy bars in our school lunchroom as they waited for their game with our team.” Why all those weird details unless it really registered in his vivid memory.
My dad stuck with that story until one year before his death when he kicked it up a notch and began to say, “You know the Globetrotters tried to get me to go on the road with them.” He lost me there…but the first edition still intrigues me and causes me to wonder.