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This Week In Illinois History: Harlem Globetrotters' First Road Game (Jan. 7, 1927)

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Before they trotted the globe or dropped in on Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, the Harlem Globetrotters made their traveling debut in the small farming village of Hinckley, Illinois.

It was January 7, 1927. The all-Black basketball team from Chicago’s south side traveled 60 miles west into the cornfields to challenge the Hinckley Merchants.

Originally known as The Savoy Big Five, for the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago where they played early games, the team was kicked out so the Savoy could install a more lucrative roller-skating rink.

Team founder Abe Saperstein decided to take his team on the road, a risky enterprise, considering the Black players were not welcome in most restaurants or hotels.

Saperstein created a new uniform and moniker: The Harlem Globetrotters. Harlem was familiar to most Americans and would tip people off that the team was all Black. Globetrotters gave the allusion that they were well travelled. 

Hinckley won the game, 43 to 34, but the Globetrotters earned enough money to travel to the next location, and the next, across Illinois, the Midwest, the country, and eventually, entertaining millions around the globe. They did finally play a game in Harlem in 1968.

In 2016, the Globetrotters returned to Hinckley and erected a sign outside the high school to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the first-ever Harlem Globetrotters road game.

Clint Cargile is the host of This Week in Illinois History and the creator and host of the podcast Drinkin’ with Lincoln.