The Globetrotters’ win was big news in Chicago and made big headlines in both the black and white newspapers. But while the black Chicago Defender trumpeted the victory in its headline, not all the white papers did. “Mikan, Trotters Thrill 17,823” read the Chicago Daily News. And the Daily Sun and Times focused on the individual scoring battle with a headline that read: “Mikan Cooks Tatum’s Goose.”
“You can’t tell by the story that the Globetrotters won,” Christgau said.
But fans, both black and white, knew the score.
“Damn right we bragged about that,” Chaney said.
Up in Minneapolis, the game shook up more than Christgau’s confidence in his Lakers.
“Unless you were just a die-hard racist, which I wasn’t, you had to re-examine your premises and begin to take a look at what it was that black players could do on a basketball court,” he said.
It got others thinking, too — particularly after the Globetrotters played the Lakers again and beat them again, this time with Movietone news cameras capturing the action.
“You know what happened?” Haynes asked. “Well, they started taking black ballplayers into the league.”
In fact, in 1950, the NBA drafted its first black player, Chuck Cooper, who went to the Boston Celtics. Saperstein sold the contract of one of his stars, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, to the New York Knickerbockers.
The Globetrotters had not only shown they could play with white teams, they’d also shown that fans — white and black — would watch them. At a time when white teams were drawing small crowds and losing money, it wasn’t lost on the owners that the crowd was the largest ever to see a professional game in Chicago.
John Chaney knew nothing about any of that. As a boy whose only connection to whites was the $3.50 a week his mother made each week cleaning their houses, he didn’t think there was any way that basketball could take him or any of his friends out of Jacksonville.
“We almost always assigned ourselves to playing sports in a local area,” he said. “That was as far as you could go.”
But this game, he said, helped change all that.
“It gave rise to access and opportunity,” he said. “That was a start in the right direction.”
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