Harlem Globetrotters: Torn Pages from Their Play Book

The Harlem Globetrotters, those clown-princes of the basketball court. have entertained America since 1927. They played a lot of games and performed a lot of gags in all those years but not every gag worked. Like any other performance group, they created classic gags (water bucket filled with confetti) that were crowd pleasers and stopped using routines that never really took off. Here are a couple of bits they removed from the playbook over the years:

Cutting a member of the opposing team with a knife hidden in a comically large basketball shoe – The GT players thought fans might like to see the players “keeping it real.” They thought wrong.

Calling a time-out then leaving to go to another show they double-booked – This was less a bit than an awkward way of dealing with a poorly organized booking agent.

Throwing a bucket of acid into the audience – An interesting look at a gag-in-process: The basic gag was the same, hitting the ref with water then chasing a player into the stands with another bucket filled with acid. It wasn’t until after trying acid, roaches, snakes and lice that they settled on shredded paper and kept the gag in the act forever.

Gunning down the referee over a bad call – This attempt to be “hard-core” had to be abandoned when the Referee Referral Agency stopped sending them referees.

Slam dunking with real dunks – They said that’s what they were doing but no one really believed them.

Playing against a small, crippled child they pulled out of the audience – In one of the first attempts at “audience participation,” GT wanted to both get children involved and make sure their winning streak remained unbroken.

A sketch where they mock the manufacturers of basketball shoes and lose out on major endorsement deals – Boy, did that one cost them.

The “highly explosive basketball” routine – It was a great trick, a real audience pleaserâÂ?¦but they could only do it once.

Re-enacting scenes from “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” — It was one of those early attempts at something called “cross-promotion.”

Substituting Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” for “Sweet Georgia Brown” – This just caused audiences to flee. There are limits.

Icing a honky for dissing their style of play – Not so much a gag as just being in the wrong game at the wrong time. Those poor Washington National dudes never knew what hit them.

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