Harlem Globetrotters Newark Visits: Jewish Player was Keenest Opponent

by Nat Bodian


In one of my Old Newark recollections, I mention going to the Mosque Theatre to see a basketball game played on the stage between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Hawaii 50th Staters.

In that era, around 1961, the Globetrotters were playing strictly exhibition games. The Globetrotters no longer played serious basketball and had become more famous for their on-court comedy routines than for their superb basketball skills.

It had never occurred to me, when I was doing some recent research on the Newark Hebrew Club basketball team that I would stumble on an encounter between the Hebrew Club and the Globetrotters.

I'd been wanting to write something on the Hebrew Club team because I'd covered their Sunday night games for the Ledger at the old High Street "Y" prior to World War II and I wanted to pay them tribute.

So what was the Hebrew Club-Globetrotter connection?

It seems that when the Globetrotters were still playing serious basketball in1942 and was one of the top pro teams in the country, they had played the Newark Hebrew Club on Sunday night, March 22, in the High Street "Y" gym.

The Hebrew Club beat the Globetrotters 41-29.

What Made That Game Special

What made that game special, if not historic, was that playing for the Hebrew Club that night was Bernie Fliegel, one of the greatest Jewish basketball players in the history of the game.

Four years earlier, when Fliegel played for City College in New York, he was a first team All-America selection. In the 1930s and 1940s, he was one of the top professional centers in the American Basketball League (ABL), which later became the NBA.

Getting back to Fliegel's experience with the Newark Hebrew Club, the 6 foot 3 inch, two-hundred and five pounder was a rarity for his size in that era. He had experienced anti-Semitism from opponents, coaches and fans, but his toughness ultimately gained him their respect.

Why That Sunday Was Eventful

On that eventful Sunday of March 22, 1942, Fliegel scored six points as the Hebrew Club bested Harlem 41-29.

That same afternoon, playing for the Wilmington Blue Bombers of the ABL, his team defeated Harlem, 55-46.

Two days later, on Tuesday, March 24, 1942, Fliegel played with the Glens Falls Lions, a local basketball team in that area, and defeated Harlem 55-46. Fliegel was the high scorer in that game with 17 points.

Three Consecutive Harlem Defeats

With that game, Fliegel played on three different teams that defeated the Globetrotters in three consecutive games -- a feat not achieved before or since1.

Fliegel retired from basketball after serving with the Air Force in World War II, to take up the practice of law in New York City. He has been retired since 1972 and lives in Naples, Florida.


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: