Henry Kissinger Was The First And Only Honorary Member Of The Harlem Globetrotters In 1976

December 6, 2023

In a surprising turn of events, the Harlem Globetrotters, renowned for their dazzling basketball skills and entertaining performances, made an unprecedented announcement.

Henry Kissinger, the distinguished diplomat and former globetrotting U.S. Secretary of State who died on November 28th, 2023, was to be bestowed with the title of the first-ever honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The news sent shockwaves through both the diplomatic and sports communities, as people tried to reconcile the image of the seasoned statesman with the playful and exuberant world of the Globetrotters. However, the team’s decision was met with curiosity and a sense of anticipation, as fans wondered how this unexpected collaboration would unfold.

The honorary ceremony took place at the iconic White House in 1976, where the air was filled with a mix of excitement and speculation. As the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed, the Globetrotters, adorned in their vibrant uniforms, took the stage. In a moment of suspense, a spotlight illuminated Henry Kissinger, who emerged wearing the iconic Globetrotters jersey with the number “1,” signifying what President Nixon thought of him.

The audience erupted into applause, blending cheers and laughter as Kissinger, with a good-natured smile, accepted a basketball from the team captain. The Globetrotters, known for their playful antics on the court, engaged in a series of entertaining interactions with the honorary member. Kissinger, in turn, embraced the whimsical spirit of the Globetrotters, showcasing surprising basketball skills and a willingness to participate in their signature tricks.


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As the exhibition game unfolded, Kissinger dribbled, passed, and even attempted a few lighthearted trick shots. The crowd, initially unsure of what to expect, was soon won over by the unexpected camaraderie between the diplomatic figure and the basketball stars. Each successful move by Kissinger was met with cheers, turning the Apollo Theater into a lively arena of celebration.

Before receiving the award Kissinger stated: “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.” Fellow Harlemite, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became an honorary member in 1989.

Off the court, Kissinger’s honorary status was marked by visits to local schools and community centers, where he shared stories of diplomacy, leadership, and the importance of unity. The Harlem community, initially surprised by the collaboration, embraced Kissinger as one of their own, recognizing the symbolic significance of breaking down barriers between worlds.

The honorary membership of Henry Kissinger in the Harlem Globetrotters became a historic moment, not only for the team but also for the broader idea that unexpected connections and collaborations can bring joy and bridge gaps between seemingly disparate worlds. The story of Kissinger’s honorary status served as a reminder that laughter and sports have the power to transcend boundaries, uniting people in the most unexpected and delightful ways.

Photo credit: 1) Official portrait, c. 1973. 2) Curly Johnson.

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