This is a tale of two professional basketball teams. Both have some of the most fantastic players in the sport on the team at any given time. Both sell out crowds, attract significant media attention wherever they go, have lucrative merchandising and get people lining up for photo-ops and autographs. Both teams also originated in the Windy City. This is about where the similarities end, though and while both are great ambassadors for the sport of basketball, chances are you are working with kids on a team that could strive to be more like one or the other.
The Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition team, played their first game in 1927 on a bitter cold January day in Illinois. As noted on History.com, which is run by the History Channel, the team was founded by a gentleman named Abe Saperstein who became the coach for an African-American team originally called the Savoy Big Five. This was during the time of legal racial discrimination and only whites played on professional teams. The new coach made the decision to promote his team’s race and named them after the infamous and historically African-American neighborhood, Harlem. He personally sewed their patriotic themed uniforms and added New York as a distinctive touch. Thus the Globetrotters were born. They were good enough to win 101 of the 117 games they played their first season and many people turned up just to watch the spectacle. Through the 30s they played hundreds of games and travelled across the midwest and northern-western states. In 1939 they made it to a national championship, but lost to a team called the New York Renaissance. By that time, the team had begun to incorporate the comedy and “antics” they are known for and they drew even larger crowds. If you have ever seen Globetrotters play it is highly entertaining and also very impressive.
By the 40s the team was beating NBA teams and playing around the world for sold out crowds with heads of states and celebrities in attendance. In 1950 the NBA lifted its ban of players of color, which put pressure back on the Globetrotter’s business model. Some of the best Globetrotters left their team and moved to the NBA, including Wilt Chamberlain. Changing ownership several times since the founder’s death, the team peaked in popularity in the 1970s and began to change its business model again, allowing for the first time in 1985 women to join the team (such as Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard). The team has a Hollywood Star, a place in the Smithsonian Museum, and has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Today the team still travels to play exhibition games and entertain large crowds, but it also spends a significant portion of its time working in schools and civic centers with kids on a program that is supported by the US Department of Education. They promote C.H.E.E.R. for Character, which focuses on character development in 6-12 year old students. Specifically, the “Program focuses on Cooperation, Healthy mind and body, Effort, Enthusiasm, and Responsibility, using the acronym C.H.E.E.R… [It] involves Globetrotter players incorporating their signature ball handling skills with a C.H.E.E.R. basketball. The basketball includes each of the character traits printed on the outside of the ball and is used as a key tool during the presentation. Globetrotter players encourage youth to match their actions with those five character traits in all their life experiences” according to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The team is touring in 2018 and now has players that are both gender and racially diverse and focuses on exhibiting entertainment, fun and serious basketball skills.
The Chicago Bulls, on the other hand, are one of the most recognized names in the NBA Franchise line-up. They became a team in 1966 and began with a fizzle. It took about 20 years for them to reach the height of their greatness when they signed one of the most name-recognizable superstars in basketball history, Michael Jordan. Jordan is described by the NBA as:
“Possibly the greatest player of all time… Jordan won seven straight scoring titles with a combination of breathtaking slam dunks and a bag of thrilling shot-making tricks. He put up some of the biggest numbers in NBA history and wrote some of the most memorable chapters in the annals of the league.” (Source).
The Bulls also had Scottie Pippen join their team in the 1980s. By the early 1990s the team was the best in the league, winning three consecutive NBA titles. In 1993 Jordan retired, but returned a year later, leading the team to even more wins. The Bulls are also the home of Dennis Rodman, one of the biggest personalities in basketball. Today not only are the Bulls a successful team and brand on their own, but Jordan himself has a significant line of merchandise tapping into his celebrity status that helps to drive continued household name recognition for the team even outside of basketball circles.
The Bull’s team personality has been described as “constantly striving to be better” by its hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, and has a long and deep history of giving back to the community and being involved in youth-centric and educational causes. They are one of the most written about teams in the sport and appear as a backdrop or as subject matter in movies and tv shows. They have some comedy attached to them, but they are serious about winning and about their role in the elite teams that make up the NBA.
Your youth basketball team probably falls in more with one of these two camps. The kids and you are out to have fun and show up to the games with skills that impress, or you can have fun when it is appropriate and you are focused intently on winning. Either approach is ok, so long as the players have bought into the team’s culture. As a coach you can help them explore this and their own goals and then show them the example you want to use to inspire them. Both demonstrate great leadership to the young people paying attention to them.
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