Picks and Pans Review: Harlem Globetrotters: Six Decades of Magic

updated 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Trotters are hard to beat as Americana. They combine sports, show business, astonishing success and a not-insignificant historical role as products, victims and frequently conquerors of American racism. This hour-long authorized history is often repetitive and at times borders on the idolatrous, but it still tells the story in vivid fashion. Actor Louis Gossett Jr. reads Robert N. Brand's narration, which is stilted yet doesn't avoid the tough issues. The bigotry the team faced from its first game in Chicago in 1928 is confronted head-on; the Trotters often had to play two games in Southern towns, one for white audiences and one for blacks, and for a while refused to play at all in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Gossett recalls too that owner-founder Abe Saperstein, a visionary but no saint, lost one of his greatest stars, master dribbler Marques Haynes, in 1953, when Haynes decided Saperstein was exploiting him by loaning him out to the Philadelphia Warriors of the National Basketball Association. The Trotter trivia is fun. Gossett notes that the team's comedy set pieces were created because they gave the exhausted players—Saperstein at first traveled with only five Trotters—time to rest. Dick Clark offers a showbiz analysis of the value of Sweet Georgia Brown, the team's theme song, and Gossett points out that the traditional pregame circle routine was devised by one of only three white Globetrotters ever, Bob Karstens, who played for them during World War II. It's annoying, if not dishonest, that clips from a 1954 feature film about the team, Go, Man, Go, in which Dane Clark played Saperstein, are mixed with documentary footage without crediting. (The brief clips from the serious games the then-competitive Trotters played against all-white pro teams in the 1940s are far more interesting.) And the story probably could be told in less time. Like the team itself, though, this tape is hard to resist. (Fries, $19.95; 800-248-1113)

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