By Ashley Mock – Treasure Coast Chapter
Harlem Globetrotters President Howard Smith was named as the leader of the team in 2016 after being credited as revitalizing the brand as the Senior VP of content strategy for Herschend Enterprises, the Globetrotters’ parent company.
As an important part of basketball history, the Globetrotters have been “spreading joy for 92 years”. With a start in Chicago as the Savoy Big 5, the later renamed Globetrotters traveled the mid-west competing against every team they could, highlight the athleticism of their stars, but also bringing comedy to the game which helped ease tensions during the 1940’s Jim Crow era. The game between the NBA league best Minneapolis Lakers and the Globetrotters ended in a buzzer beater with a win for the Globetrotters, solidifying the talent of the starts and paving the way for African American players to sign NBA contracts.
Those tours across the US led to European tours where the Globetrotters were welcomed by royalty and dignitaries from the countries they visited. In 1952 the US State Department declared them “Ambassadors of Extraordinarily Goodwill” – which the team still takes very seriously. In fact, Smith credits this as the first of four strategic lessons to learn from the brand’s 92 year history. “Place yourself in important moments that are worth celebrating,” Smith said, highlighting photos from Globetrotter trips that included the release of Nelson Mandela, a VICE media documentary in North Korea and spinning a ball with Pope Francis.
The next lesson involves the “est and the first factor”. Being the best, the fastest, the biggest or the first will always make headlines. The Globetrotters have a history of celebrating great ideas, regardless of how crazy they may seem at first. One of those ideas has led to a 12 year history with the Guiness Book of World Records and has allowed Globetrotter starts to break multiple world records, one that was done live on the set of Good Morning America.
As lesson #3, Smith referenced “borrowed equity” which the Globetrotters view as a draft off the equity of well-branded stars. By tapping into the local star base of locations where the Globetrotters travel, they have been able to leverage the brand equity of those celebrities and their followings. One of the biggest and best takes on that was the introduction of the Globetrotter Draft. The draft, pushed exclusively on social media, highlighted actual players being drafted to the Globetrotter team, but also superheros or athletes who could potentially be good additions to the team.
Smith wrapped up with a lesson about storytelling, or tapping into the “star power” of the Globetrotter stars themselves. Stories have been pushed and picked up about athletes eating a vegan diet or an athlete with two hard of hearing parents who went on to teach skills camps for deaf and hard of hearing kids.
The Harlem Globetrotters have had global reach for more than 90 years, and Smith, who learned to spin a ball on one finger as a young boy, is leading a team poising them to succeed for plenty more.