Years after the Harlem Globetrotters' switch to purely show basketball, people still wonder how they stack up against top pro teams. Not well, one concludes.
The Trotters do not attract the best college talent. What players they sign generally have been rejected or never drafted by National Basketball Association franchises. This isn't to say that the team is any less entertaining, for it still delights crowds around the world. Like ''The Wizard of Oz,'' the Globetrotters are a timeless attraction, one that appeals to generation after generation.
The club, which has no connection to Harlem, but chose that name to indicate the racial makeup of the team, was founded in Chicago in 1926. Today the Trotters reside on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.
In the early days of the pro basketball they were a pre-integration oasis for black players. But since Chuck Cooper broke the NBA's color line in 1950, the league has increasingly become a land of opportunity for blacks.
Showmanship was always a big part of the Trotters' appeal, but for many years they also regularly held their own when they switched off to serious games against strong college or pro teams. In 1948, for example, they split two contests with the NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers. And throughout the '50s and early '60s they posted a 146-66 overall record in an annual series against college all-star teams,.
Wilt Chamberlain even spent a season with the Globetrotters after dropping out of Kansas during the late 1950s. Since then, however, the headliners have been showmen like Meadowlark Lemon and Geese Ausbie.
Marie Linehan, a long-time Globetrotter publicist, says the team does extensive scouting. Tryout camps are held to fill job openings, with the emphasis on signing sound players with specialized skills (outside shooting, ballhandling, etc.), not ''cutie pie'' types. The razzle dazzle can come later.
The Trotters' two units (one national and the other international) still leave 'em laughin', and last year played before an estimated two million spectators.