The Harlem Globetrotters are a New Year's Eve tradition in Milwaukee.
The Harlem Globetrotters are a New Year's Eve tradition in Milwaukee. (Photo: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar/WikiCommons)

Intergenerational joy with Globetrotters a New Year's Eve tradition

New Year’s Eve this year is going to be a trip to the Bradley Center to take four little grandchildren to see the Harlem Globetrotters, and as Yogi Berra said, it’s going to be "deja vu all over again."

Back in another century, a friend and I took our families, including two small kids each, to see the Globetrotters on New Year’s Eve for a few years in a row. It became a mini-tradition.

It’s hard to find the words to describe the kids' reaction.

They knew about the game of basketball, but this was unlike anything they had seen before. It was early in the game when a player chased a referee with what looked like a bucket of water, only to throw it into the stands and find out it was full of confetti. The kids went nuts.

The only sad part about all of this was that they missed Meadowlark Lemon, whose last appearance on New Year’s Eve must have been Dec. 31, 1977. He was kicked off the team the next year after founder Abe Saperstein died. Lemon was famous, not just for his humor but for also refusing to join his teammates in contract negotiations. He negotiated his own contract.

One of the things lost in the entire story of the Globetrotters is the influence they had on the National Basketball Association. Throughout much of the 1960s and '70s, there was a belief that NBA teams were consciously limiting the number of black players on each team. In the '60s, the number was four per team and that figure began to disappear in the '70s.

The Globetrotters, with Lemon in the middle of the whole thing, entertained everywhere and were beloved by both black and white audiences, and the league continued to integrate. The black professional leagues and the Globetrotters continued to pave the way for equality in the world of basketball. When Lemon left in 1978, there were fears that an era had come to an end in the basketball world in America.

The very next year Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were drafted into the NBA, and they were the spark that helped turn the NBA into a global force.

Now the Globetrotters are primarily an entertainment group, playing hundreds of games each year in places from the Bradley Center to high school playgrounds – the same thing they have been doing for 90 years. The team is a true American institution and is a guaranteed laugh.

Adults love the show, but it’s the children who really get caught up in the whole panorama. Tickets are available for the two shows Friday and can be ordered here.

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