The legendary Harlem Globetrotters played their first game 90 years ago today, on January 7, 1927. In the near-century since, a select few people have been named “honorary Globetrotters.” While there are athletes on the list, most of them aren't exactly people who can handle a basketball like Meadowlark Lemon.
1. HENRY KISSINGER
In 1976, Henry Kissinger was deemed the first-ever member of the honorary roster. “I’m not too good at the fast break, but I’m strong on defense, and despite my height, I’m a pretty good rebounder,” Kissinger said. “It is an honor to be associated with a group whose won-and-lost record was certainly better than my own. My only worry is how I will look in short pants.”
2. BOB HOPE
Hope was named an honorary Globetrotter in 1977, receiving jersey number 1. It’s no surprise that the legendary comedian’s acceptance letter was full of jokes:
“To be perfectly frank, I deserve to be a Globetrotter ... In fact, I was recently given an award for completing my first million miles, and that was just to and from airports. The Trotters are famed for making baskets. I’ve been making baskets myself lately, and if the psychiatrists let me out for an hour, I’ll be there for your presentation.”
3. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR
The Globetrotters offered Abdul-Jabbar a reported $1 million to play basketball for them back in 1969, but he declined and went on to become the first pick in the NBA draft that year. They eventually added him to the lineup as an honorary member in 1989.
4. WHOOPI GOLDBERG
Comedian and actress Whoopi Goldberg also joined the team in 1989.
5. NELSON MANDELA
In 1996, the Globetrotters made history when they became the first professional basketball team to play in a free democratic South Africa. They also hosted clinics, made school and hospital visits, and honored President Nelson Mandela with his own number.
6. JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE
Track and field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee became the sixth member of the honorary squad in 1999. Though she’s known for her prowess around the track, Joyner-Kersee could hold her own if the Globetrotters ever asked her to jump in on the court: She briefly played for the Richmond Rage in the women’s American Basketball League.
7. POPE JOHN PAUL II
Pope John Paul II made the cut in 2000, receiving jersey number 75 in honor of the Globetrotters’ 75th anniversary.
8. JESSE JACKSON
The civil rights activist famously stood up for the Globetrotters when they were criticized for portraying African-Americans as buffoonish. “I think they’ve been a positive influence,” Jackson said. “ ... They did not show blacks as stupid. On the contrary, they were shown as superior.” Jackson was inducted in 2001.
9. POPE FRANCIS
The Globetrotters have not one, but two holy rollers on their honorary lineup. Pope Francis was added to the honorary roster in 2015. “His tireless work for the well-being of the poor and elderly, his humanitarian efforts, and his commitment to bridge gaps between people of various cultures are ways the Harlem Globetrotters also aspire to touch lives around the world,” Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider said.
Globetrotters Hi-Lite Bruton, Ant Atkinson, Big Easy Lofton, and Flight Time Lang tried to teach the Pope the old trick of spinning a basketball on one finger, but as you can see from the video above, His Holiness should probably stick to recording albums.
10. ROBIN ROBERTS
Award-winning newscaster Robin Roberts joined the team in 2015, receiving jersey number 21—the same number she wore as a basketball player for Southeastern Louisiana University. “She used her platform as a journalist to selflessly make her personal health battle public in order to raise awareness of the need for bone marrow donors, and by doing so, she potentially helped save lives,” Schneider said. “Robin fully embodies the ambassadorial spirit the Globetrotters have exuded for 90 years."
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.