Bob Karstens, 89; Globetrotters Player, Manager

From a Times Staff Writer

Bob Karstens, the third white player for the Harlem Globetrotters and the only one under a contract, who created many of their signature routines such as the pregame “Magic Circle,” has died. He was 89.

Karstens died Dec. 31 in Redlands of natural causes, the team announced.

Other routines credited to Karstens include the team’s behind-the-back backhand shot; the “yo-yo” basketball; and the “goofball,” a basketball filled with weights that made it bounce erratically.

Born in Davenport, Iowa, Karstens started playing basketball at the age of 6 and became a star player for the Iowa Central Turner Gym and St. Ambrose College in Davenport.

Abe Saperstein, founder of the Globetrotters and one of the other original white players, along with Buddy Levitt, saw Karstens play when the Globetrotters were matched against the Turner Gym team in Iowa. When Reece “Goose” Tatum was drafted into the Army Air Forces in 1942, Saperstein asked Karstens to step in as the team’s designated showman.


“I couldn’t find a pen fast enough to sign on,” Karstens told the Los Angeles Times in 1979. “The Globetrotters were considered the real world champions at that time. I played all the 1942 season and half of 1943 before Goose came back.”

Karstens stayed with the team as manager until 1954, and in 1994 received the Harlem Globetrotter “Legends” ring.

He said that integrating the all-black team eight years before Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton became the first black in the NBA in 1950 posed no problem, but provided some interesting situations. He was once housed with teammates in all-black barracks while playing on an Army base, and ousted from the team’s all-black railroad car by a conductor in Texas while talking with track star Jesse Owens.

“Being the only white guy was never a problem. Hardly anybody even asked about it,” he told The Times in 1979. “I had the skills to fit in and do the tricks. Everybody respected that and that’s all there was to it.”

Karstens, who was later a construction worker, is survived by his wife, Pauline; three sons; and four grandchildren.