Women and the Harlem Globetrotters

Harlem GlobetrottersWhen I was a kid, I loved the Harlem Globetrotters. I think most kids do. Now I don’t especially care what they do on the court, but I find their business model fascinating. They are entertainers and they’ve managed to spice up the act of a basketball game so that it has a much higher entertainment value. Compare that to the NBA, which really provides damned little entertainment value. This is a problem with professional sports generally: all the players are so great that the exposition of talent doesn’t show much.

The problem with the NBA is that the purpose of each team is to win. That means that the teams will be filled with not just the best players but the best players of the specific kind of game that is played in the NBA. So it doesn’t matter how good someone like Luis Da Silva might be at a particular part of the game. The Globetrotters don’t have this problem. So they are able to diversify their roster.

Let me just note something in passing. I remember a roommate telling me that he didn’t see the point of watching a whole basketball game, when you could get everything out of it by watching the last three minutes. That strikes me the same as reading a book to find out what happened. I suppose there is some value in it. But it indicates that for most people, basketball doesn’t provide a whole lot of entertainment value.

The reason I bring this up is that I came upon an article, Female Globetrotters — 9 Women Who Have Worn the Red, White, and Blue. I had no idea that the Globetrotters had ever had women on their team — much less nine of them. At that time, the most recent female player was Fatima “TNT” Maddox. Here she is on The Arsenio Hall Show. See if you don’t notice something:

Arsenio Hall isn’t that tall! Fatima is tiny — Shorter than I am! — just 5"6'. But Fatima isn’t the only woman on the current Harlem Globetrotters. They also have Tammy “T-Time” Brawner, who is only 5"5'. I know that small men do occasionally play in the NBA, but this is still remarkable. There have only been 24 players who were 5"9' or less in the 68 year history of the NBA. And there have been only three that were 5"6' or less. This season, the Globetrotters added Joyce “Sweet J” Ekworomadu, who towers over the others at 5"10'.

I’ve always found professional spots to be awfully homoerotic. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; but for something that obsesses a bunch of ostensibly straight men, it seems weird. Unless women are dressed in bikinis, most men are not too interested in watching them play sports. I’m just saying.

The first female Harlem Globetrotter was Lynette Woodard, who joined the team in 1985 — almost 30 years ago. And I understand: the Globetrotters are in a position to do this in a way that the Lakers are not. But sexism in a culture isn’t just or even primarily about explicit exclusion of women. It is also about extolling those things that men excel at and minimizing things where women excel. I think it is great that the Globetrotters have women on their squad.

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