January 30, 2011

Harlem Globetrotters and Nikita Khrushchev

The 1959 Crusade for Freedom fund-raising campaign for Radio Free Europe in Ogden, Utah, represented a true grass-roots rallying effort. The goal in Utah was $15,000. Hal Harmon, a "Tripper" in 1954, was Crusade regional chairman of Utah, Montana and Idaho. For the third yeard, C.D. Micholson of the Kennecot Copper Company, Salt Lake City was state chairman and Sid Weese, Ogden-Utah Knitting Company, was the Weber County chairman. 

The Ogden campaign featured a "Freedom bowling joust," newspaperboy door-to-door campaign, a White Elephant sale sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary, a "Crusade for Freedom Ball," Truth Broadcast contest and a basketball exhibition game between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals on March 19, 1959, in the Ben Lomond high school gymnasium. 

One of America's iconic sport-entertainers is the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, which was founded in 1926. Abe Sapperstein, whose parents were Polish immigrants, founded the team. Since 1926, the Harlem Globetrotters have played over 25,000 games in 120 countries and perhaps 200 million spectators.

On February 18, 1959, the Ogden Standard-Examiner newspaper quoted Sid Weese as saying “The Trotters have been turning them away everywhere and my advice is to get your tickets early.” 

The newspaper proudly reported on that forty newspaperboys would be guests of the Crusade for Freedom at the basketball game because “of their fine work in making their quota in the Crusade drive.”  

In the "Women's Section" of the newspaper on February 23, 1959, there was a full-page overview of how the "Crusade for Freedom campaign helps get the Truth behind the Iron Curtain" and "Pierce the Iron Curtain with the Truth" with Radio Free Europe broadcasts.

For the evening with the Harlem Globetrotters, six international vaudeville acts as "an added floor show," were part of the evening’s entertainment program, including the, 
  • Farius duo and trio from Cuba in two different acts of “roly poly and equilibristic wizardry.”
  • Jacques Cordon, exciting unlcyciist and juggler from Belgium; 
  • Paul Smoll, German contortionist,
  • Kim Yohoi, "Ballerina of the Bicycle" from Tokyo,  
  • Benny Schirtzinger, clever batonist from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Employees of the railroad companies Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and O.U.R. & D. combined their efforts in “boosting the classic, one of the Crusade for Freedom sports attractions.” 

Ironically, the Harlem Globetrotter also played nine sold-out games in Moscow in the summer 1959, as part of the US-Soviet cultural exchange program. Seven vaudeville acts were part of the program, including bicyclist Kim Yohoi, who reportedly received louder applause than the Globetrotters. The other acts included, “A Scottish monocyclist who balanced cups and saucers, a German brother and sister act in which she twirls head down on her brother’s head, an Argentine youth doing flamenco dancing on roller skates, and a table tennis match.”

1959 AP Wirephoto
Their opponents were the San Francisco "Chinese Basketeers." According to an Associated Press report carried by newspapers in the U.S., the Globetrotters were out walking on a sight-seeing tour of Moscow, when “a big Russian car whizzed by, quickly stopped and out stepped Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev,” who shouted in English, “Ah, basketball.” "This is the American basketball team?" he asked. He then shook hands with the Globetrotters and chatted with the team for five minutes, while posing for photographers. He was quoted as saying through a translator, “Basketball is very interesting, very interesting.” Reportedly, the rest of his comments were not translated because the translator could not keep up with him.

Prior to the opening game at Moscow's Lenin Central Stadium on July 6, 1959, they were again greeted by Nikita Khrushchev. An estimated 135,000 spectators attended the nine games in Moscow. The Globetrotters were paid the equivalent of $4,000 dollars in Rubles for each game. But they had to spend the money in Moscow as it was illegal to export the money.

On the final night of the tour, the Globetrotters were guests of a sports dinner in the Sport Palace. Vaselli Napastnikov, director of the Sports Palace, said, “Your team has done more to help Russian-American relations than any other sports organization that has come to Moscow. We invite you to return as soon as possible.”  The Globetrotters were awarded the “Athletic Order of Lenin Medal” for their tour.

For more information on the Harlem Globetrotters, go to http://www.harlemglobetrotters.com/



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