Podcast – Rise of the Barnstormer Teams

A Short History of Basketball – Indiana Edition

Rise of the Barnstormer Teams

Rise of the Barnstormer Teams


From the Book:
A Short History of Basketball – Indiana Edition
Greetings, today I will discuss some of the early barnstormer teams that played across the United States.

Over first two decades of the sport many professional basketball leagues started and failed. Many professional teams did not join a league, instead remaining independent. These teams scheduled their own games and played a variety of different teams across the United States. Some even played in Mexico and Canada. Some of these teams were quite successful, others not so much. A popular name for these teams was barnstormers.

An early professional team, the Original Celtics began playing in 1914 with players from Manhattan’s West Side. The team disbanded in 1918 as World War I began. During the years before the war the Original Celtics played as a barnstorming team. The team resumed play in 1918, again as a barnstorming team. Many of the players of this team became legendary as their skill began attracting the attention of the general public to professional basketball. James Furey used the nucleus of the 1914 – 1917 team to assemble the new Original Celtics. The team joined the Eastern League in 1921, the Metropolitan League in 1923 and returned to the Eastern League for the first half of the 1923 season. At various times they also play as an independent team. The team dominated these leagues, achieving a 193-11-1 record. From 1924 the team played a barnstorming schedule, playing from 150 – 200 games per season and traveling up to 150,000 miles. In 1927 the team joined the National Basketball League as the New York-Arcola (NJ) Original Celtics. At the end of this season the team left the NBL for the American Basketball League as the New York Celtics. The team remained with this league until 1941.

Buffalo German founder F.W. Burkhardt had been one of Naismith’s pupils and played on the first basketball game in 1891. The Genesee Street YMCA in Buffalo, New York hired Burkhardt as its physical education director in 1895. Burkhardt formed a basketball team that he called the Buffalo Germans. This team went on to become one of the legendary barnstorming teams. The team dominated basketball for two decades, at one time winning 111 consecutive games. The team won the 1901 Pan American Championship and then took the 1904 Olympic title in St. Louis. During their winning streak, beginning in 1908, the team beat their opponents by an average of 30 points. The team disbanded in 1925 after compiling a 792-86 won/loss record.

West Indies native Bob Douglas migrated to New York when he was 19 years old, where he established an amateur athletic club. Jim Crow laws during this era prevented blacks from competing on the same team as whites, so his establishment created a place for black youth to play amateur sports. He first became familiar with basketball in 1905. He formed a black amateur basketball team called the Spartan Braves in 1908. He played as the star player until 1918. At that point he retired to become the coach of his newest endeavor, a professional team he called the New York Renaissance Five on February 13, 1923. The team played its first game on November 3, 1923. The team went on to become one of professional basketball’s dominant teams, compiling a 2588-539 record. The team played until the end of the 1949 season.

The original players of a team called the Harlem Globetrotters grew up on the south side of Chicago where they formed a team called the Savoy Big Five in 1926. Composed of all black players, the team played exhibition games at the Savoy Ballroom as one of the venue’s premier attractions. The team played its first game in Hinckley, Illinois on Jan. 7, 1927. A player dispute in 1928 led to several players leaving the team. These players formed a team they called the Globe Trotters and played games throughout southern Illinois in the spring of that year. Abraham Michael Saperstein, an early promoter of black sports teams, became involved with the team in 1929. He renamed the team the “New York Harlem Globe Trotters, even though the team had no ties to Harlem. Many considered Harlem as the center of black culture in the United States during that era. He used the words globe trotters to signal his intention to establish the team’s plan to play international venues. The team began participating in the World Professional Basketball Tournament in the 1940’s. Because the team had contracts with the best black players in the United States, the team dominated the tournament until the National Basketball Association formed in 1946. Teams in the NBA began signing black players. By the early 1950’s the Globetrotters began working comic routines into their repertoire. This process evolved until by the 1960’s the team had become known more as an entertainment act than a basketball team. The modern Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team that features athleticism, theater, and comedy as part of its act. The team has played over 26,000 games in 126 countries and plays 450 events per year. Although the games are mostly entertainment, opposing teams do play “real,” basketball when they have possession of the ball. The Washington Generals dealt the Globetrotters and embarrassing defeat in 1971 when the Globetrotters allowed a large lead to disappear allowing the Generals to hit a game winning basket at the final buzzer.

This story is excerpted from my book, A Short History of Basketball – Indiana Edition, a part of the Indiana History Series.
Readers can find the book on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and other online book retailers in both ebook and softbound formats.
Readers can also purchase the book direct from me on my website, http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com
You can contact me at mossyfeetbooks@gmail.com
Thank you for listening

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