PSL Alums with the Harlem Globetrotters/Boston Brownskins

Showboat Hall

Robert “Showboat” Hall is one of 39 PSL products to play for the Harlem Globetrotters in that franchise’s 82-year history. Hall, along with “Jumpin’ ” Johnny Kline and David “Smokey” Gaines, are the only three Detroiters to have become a Globetrotter’s Legend – it’s equivalent of the hall of fame. (Harlem Globetrotters Photo)

For decades, African American basketball players were barred from —  or had limited opportunities to play – “major league” professional basketball.  (The American Basketball League, from 1925-26 to 1930-31, the National Basketball League, from 1937-38 to 1948-49, and the National Basketball Association, for its first 20 years, were three such major leagues.)

The National Basketball Association, originally called the Basketball Association of America, was completely segregated for its first four years, and the League did not hit the 50-percent African American mark until the 1966-67 season!

For at least six seasons during the 1930s and 1940s the NBL played doubleheaders with the Harlem Globetrotters, and from the 1946-47 season through the 1961-62 season, and again in 1966-67, 1968-69, and 1969-70, the NBA played doubleheaders with the Globetrotters to increase its attendance.  For many of these years the Globetrotters were much more popular than the NBA and the Globetrotters playing doubleheaders with the NBA played a major role in keeping the NBA alive.  In fact, many fans would attend the Globetrotters’ half of the doubleheader and then leave before the NBA half.  This motivated the NBA to schedule the Trotters as the second game many nights, to avoid that embarrassment.  It’s hard to believe today, but it’s true.

During the 1947-48 basketball season the Globetrotters played and defeated the Minneapolis Lakers.  This was a huge accomplishment when one considers the Lakers featured Hall of Famers George Mikan and Jim “The Kangaroo Kid” Pollard, and went on to win the World Professional Basketball Tournament and NBL championship that season.  That Globetrotters’ team, by the way, featured two Detroiters—Wilbur King and Vertis “Dollar Bill” Zeigler.

When these two teams played a second game, during the 1948-49 season, the Globetrotters won again.  It is no surprise that when the NBA began to integrate, 18 of the first 31 African Americans to ever play in the NBA were once Globetrotters.  That total does not include Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Connie Hawkins who played for the Globetrotters before playing in the NBA.

As the League increased the number of African-American players, the popularity of the Globetrotters decreased.  With that said, we recognize the Globetrotters—as well as other independent African-American professional barnstorming teams, such as Bobby Douglas’ New York Renaissance—for the critical role they played in the history of basketball.

Three PSL products — Robert “Showboat” Hall“Jumpin’ ” Johnny Kline, and David “Smokey” Gaines –  have ascended to the Globetrotter equivalent of a hall of fame by being named a Globetrotter Legend. You can follow the link on each player to his personal page on the Harlem Globetrotters‘ website.

Harlem Globetrotters from the Detroit Public Schools

(Many of the Harlem Globetrotters on the list below also spent time during their careers barnstorming professionally for Abe Saperstein’s other teams the Boston Brownskins, Kansas City Stars, Carlisle Indians, and New York Rens.)

Alexander, Bacari – Northern/Southwestern
Brown (Wroten), George - Cass Tech
Bullard, Will “Bull” – Northwestern/Central/Southeastern
Coates, Kara - Northern
Davis, James “Country”  – Miller
Denning (Mitchell),  Blaine – Northern
Finney, Gus - Cass Tech
Gaines, David “Smokey” - Miller/Northeastern
Gee, Sammy – Miller
Griffin, William Sylvester - Cass Tech
Griffin, Willie “Spider” - Northeastern
Hall, Robert “Showboat” - Russell School
Harmon, Michael - Murray-Wright
Haynes, James - Cass Tech
Horton, Willie - Northwestern
House, Stuart - Detroit St. Mary of Redford/Denby
Jackson, Mike “Rookie” - Eastern
Johnson, Andre “Prince” – Millennium/Cooley
Jones, Collins - Moore School
Justice, Charlie - Hamtramck/Northern
King, Woodfuff “Boudreau” - Cass Tech
King, Wilbert “Wilbur” - Pershing
Kline, Johnny “Jumpin’ ” - Northeastern/Northwestern/Northeastern
Phelps, Silas - Northern
Primas, Charlie “King Snake” - Miller
Reffigee, Dedrick - Southeastern
Rusan, Harry - Cass Tech
Scarborough, Willie - Moore School
Smith, Doug - Mackenzie
Smith, Walker “’Sugar Ray’ Robinson” - Garfield School
Summers, Ron – Northwestern
Summons, Murphy - Northwestern
Twyman, Jimmy “Happy” - Central
Wagner, Ernie “Daddy Wag” - Northeastern/Northern/Northeastern
Ward, Charles “Tiny Brown/Goose Tatum Jr.” - Capron School
Waters, Walter - Southeastern
Zeigler, Vertis “Dollar Bill” - Northern

Abe Saperstein’s Boston Brownskins from the Detroit Public Schools

Finney, Gus - Cass Tech
Justice, Charlie – Hamtramck/Northern
Malone, Bill “Sausage” - Cass Tech
Rusan, Harry - Cass Tech
Stevens (Stephens), Willie “Buddy/Rockjaw” - Miller Intermediate School

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