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THE Harlem Globetrotters are to basketball what Microsoft is to computers, what Pepsi is to soft drinks...

THE Harlem Globetrotters are to basketball what Microsoft is to computers, what Pepsi is to soft drinks...

Harlem Globetrotters

Harlem Globetrotters

And more than 80 years after the show-boating sportsmen first threw some hoops they are still simply having a ball.

The moment their theme song Sweet Georgia Brown begins to play, crowds know they are going to be entertained by some of the planet’s best basketball players.

But how many people know, although essentially an American game, the Globetrotters were formed by an Englishman called Abe Saperstein in 1926?

Initially named Savoy Big Five after Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom, they played their first game in January 1927 and changed their name in 1930 to Harlem New York Globetrotters.

The team soon became a force to be reckoned with and by 1940 had won their first World Basketball Championship. That same year the team established it’s now world famous basketball training camp.

Sweet Georgia Brown – which will echo around Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena when the impossibly tall chaps return on April 28 - was first heard at a Globetrotters match in 1946 and was adopted as their official theme in 1952.

By then they had become the master show-team they remain today, a side of the Globetrotters legend that began with the signing of one of basketball’s all-time greats, Reece ‘Goose’ Tatum.

It was he that organised and developed most of the team’s comedy routines, followed by Bob Karstens who made history as being the first white player to be contracted to the team.

In 1954 probably the most famous of all the Globetrotters made his début. The clown prince of basketball ‘Meadowlark’ Lemon went on to play for the team for 24 years.

And it wasn’t just his fun side that made him famous. In a televised match he reverse threw the ball over his head into the basket - from the half-way line. He formed a magical partnership with ‘Curly’ Neal, one of the sports’ greatest dribblers when he signed up in 1963, staying for 22 years.

Although basketball is not the crowd-pulling sport it is in the USA, where players are paid millions of dollars, the Globetrotters have always been a huge hit in England.

Their tours have regularly sold out and it became a Bank Holiday tradition for the BBC to show their matches on the TV. They even had their own cartoon TV series.

“When you run out on the floor and hear the roar of the crowd, you forget about everything else,” says current team member 27-year-old guard Anthony ‘Ant’ Atkinson.

“For me, that means a lot. It’s the pride of putting on that red, white and blue uniform, enjoying basketball and bringing joy to the fans. It’s everything I wanted wrapped up in one thing.”

Chris ‘Handles’ Franklin joined in 2007 having watched the cartoons as a kid in the ’70s.

“My goal in growing up was to either play basketball or be a crime fighter,” he says, highlighting the educational as well as sporting and fun aspect of the team’s work.

“Not only do we have to be good basketball players but good role models. We are goodwill ambassadors, especially for education. All of us have been to college and a high percentage have degrees.

“We strive for excellence and education. I tell kids to believe in themselves and what they want out of life.

“No matter what anyone says, they should strive to achieve what they want.

“In my life people said I could not be a Globetrotter. But with hard work and persistence I did it.”

And while the name is associated with fun and humour, accompanied by exhibition skills, the Harlem Globetrotters remain a sports team.

On September 12 1995, they lost a match 91-85 – their first loss since January 5, 1971, when they went down in a 100-99 scoreline. That record-breaking winning streak lasted an incredible 8,829 games.

The likes of ‘Buckets’ Blades and ‘Rocket’ Rivers are also ambassadors of their sport and during their 85-year history the Globetrotters have visited 118 countries to play in front of 123 million fans.

They’ve still only lost 300 out of their first 9,000 games.

This latest tour seems the lofty lads land in Sheffield on their ‘4 Times The Fun World Tour’, celebrating their 85th consecutive year via a new show with more basketball skills and wizardry, adding up to great family entertainment with over two and a half hours of tricks, spins and spectacular slam dunks.

In fact, the Globetrotters have recently become the first live event entertainers to be awarded a PTPA (Parent Tested Parent Approved) Seal.

A volunteer panel of parents named their show a winner based on its wholesome family entertainment content and high quality of production.

“At PTPA Media, we are proud to play a role in certifying products that families can trust,” says Sharon Vinderine, president and founder of PTPA Media Inc.

“The Globetrotters’ ability to keep both parents and children laughing and smiling throughout their show was equally as impressive as their amazing athletic ability.

“Deservingly, the Globetrotters’ show is the first live-event to earn the PTPA Seal and we are honoured they trusted us with their legendary show.”

Maybe the team they end up playing on the night won’t feel quite so entertained.