WINCHESTER, Va. — It’s not a stretch to say that most people have heard of the Harlem Globetrotters and can whistle the basketball team’s iconic theme song “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The internationally renowned team of sports entertainers were in Winchester on Monday night to play for 2,000 local fans in the sold-out James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics and Events Center at Shenandoah University.
The Harlem Globetrotters game is the first large-scale professional event to be held in the new, award-winning 77,000-square-foot, $24.5 million center.
The Globetrotters were founded in 1926 on the south side of Chicago. Since then, the team has gone on to play before an estimated 146 million fans in 123 countries and territories worldwide. At the peak of the team’s popularity in the 1970s and ’80s, the Globetrotters had their own Saturday morning cartoon and variety show, were fixtures on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” and even starred in a tremendously popular TV movie, “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.” Players at that time — Meadowlark Lemon, Fred “Curly” Neal, Hubert “Geese” Ausbie, “Sweet” Lou Dunbar and others — became household names. Dunbar is now a coach for the Atlanta-based Globetrotters and guided the team from courtside Monday night at the Wilkins Center.
Beyond entertainment, the Globetrotters were also ambassadors for racial harmony during a period when segregation was prominent in the United States. Christensen said he has spoken with Neal about what it was like to play for racially divided crowds in the 1960s and ’70s. “He said he felt the Globetrotters had a little part in bringing the races together, sitting next to each other and laughing at the same thing,” Christensen said. “It’s not about color; it’s about bringing families together, having a good time and smiling. Those guys definitely paved the way for us to do what we do today.” “The Globetrotters played a huge role in integrating basketball in the ’50s,” team president Howard Smith added. “Many of the first stars in the NBA were, in fact, Globetrotters players.” Among them were Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African-American to sign an NBA contract, and Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain.
Winchester-based Howard Shockey & Sons, Inc. was the general contractor, and Nashville-based Earl Swensson Associates designed the building.
Source: The Winchester Star. Read the original story here.