Former Harlem Globetrotter Bob "Showboat" Hall, whose dazzling moves and comic antics made him a top showman of the internationally recognized basketball team, died Wednesday in a hospital in Grosse Pointe, Mich. He was 87.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Kittie Barksdale-Hall.
Bob Hall was known not only for his skills and ability to make fans laugh during the team's exhibition games, but also for his longevity as a player. Having joined the team in 1948, he played in more than 5,000 games that were a combination of ball-handling wizardry and comedy — often twice a day in the midst of a punishing travel schedule — until retiring in 1974.
At a time when big-league professional basketball was fledgling and largely segregated, the all-black Globetrotters not only boosted the sport in the U.S. but were international ambassadors. Hall played in nearly 90 countries, including on a 1959 Cold War visit to the Soviet Union.
"Their humor transcends boundaries," wrote Times sportswriter Jim Murray in a 1994 column about the team. "You mention the Harlem Globetrotters and everybody smiles."
Robert Alfred Hall was born Sept. 30, 1927, in Detroit. He honed his basketball skills at the legendary Brewster recreation center, where boxer Joe Louis and other sports stars practiced over the years.
FOR THE RECORD
Dec. 28, 5:26 p.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled Joe Louis' last name as Lewis.
Hall was 15 when his father died, and with eight other kids in the family, he quit school to go to work. He delivered ice and worked in a factory before getting a chance to join the Globetrotters, said William Hoover, a Detroit schoolteacher who maintains a website on the city's basketball history.
When Goose Tatum, the Globetrotters' top showman, quit in 1955, Hall took over that designation. Sportswriter Jack Clowser in the Cleveland Press said Hall's work on the court was superior. "He does Tatum's routines better than the man who originated them, and adds a lot of his own," he wrote.
The Globetrotter organization had more than one squad — Hall played for much of his career in the western U.S. In L.A., the team played a variety of venues, including the Sports Arena, Shrine Auditorium and now-defunct Pan-Pacific Auditorium.
Hall took on the dual role of player and coach for his last six years with the organization. He went on to work for Detroit's youth basketball program and the state's correctional system.
"Mostly all the guys who played with the Globetrotters back then had to get a job after they left," Hall said in an interview for the Pre 1960 Original Harlem Globetrotters organization. His time in the game was a far cry from today's National Basketball Assn., with its seven- and eight-figure salaries.
Asked what he would say to a player like LeBron James if he met him, Hall said with a laugh, "You came around at the right time."
In addition to his wife, Hall is survived by sisters Francis Myler and Leontine Person, both of Detroit.