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How optimistic is Mannie Jackson, the businessman who purchased
the Harlem Globetrotters in 1993, thus rescuing the storied club
from near bankruptcy and becoming the only African-American
majority owner of such a high-profile professional sports
franchise in one fell swoop? Even after the Globetrotters lost
to an all-star team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in September,
ending a Trotter winning streak that had spanned 24 years and
8,829 games, Jackson sat in his office in Alhambra, Calif., feet
up on the desk, and talked only of the future.

"I've told people in this office not to walk around with a
passion for this won-lost thing," says Jackson, whose youthful
mien and flat stomach belie his 56 years. "We will continue to
provide a comedy-basketball experience for the family, but we
plan to mix things up. Which means we don't plan on beating the
Washington Generals every night."

If that comes as a surprise to longtime Trotter followers, it
shouldn't. Those people who know Jackson well--and he counts
Jesse Jackson (no relation), Phoenix Sun owner Jerry Colangelo
and Honeywell CEO Michael Bonsignore as friends--say that nothing
he does surprises them.

Jackson was born in a railway boxcar in southern Missouri, and
he shared those close quarters with 12 other members of his
family during the first three years of his life, until the
Jacksons moved into a two-bedroom house in Edwardsville, Ill.
Mannie would accompany his mother and grandmother as they
cleaned the homes of white townspeople.

"For some people, it would've been very depressing to have a mom
and grandmother who were scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets
in white folks' houses," says Jackson. "But it was an education
for me. I'd go into their libraries and look at the books they
read. I'd listen to them talk and watch how they carried
themselves. And I'd watch my mother: how she talked about
quality and took pride in what she was doing. I came out of it a
better person."

Young Mannie took up basketball, grew to be 6'2" and worked to
perfect the jump shot that would become his trademark. At
Edwardsville High in the mid-'50s, Mannie and his childhood
buddy Governor Vaughn and future NBA guard Don Ohl formed a
nearly unbeatable troika. After Ohl graduated in 1954,
classmates Jackson, a guard, and Vaughn, a forward, led
Edwardsville to the 1956 state final--the only time the school
has made it that far. The team fell to West Rockford 67-65.

Jackson was named first team all-state that year, and he and
Vaughn won scholarships to the University of Illinois. In 1958
they became the first two blacks ever to letter in hoops for the
Fighting Illini.

In Champaign, Mannie met up with another Jackson: Jesse, who at
the time was just another hotshot college quarterback. "You
should have seen Jesse at 17, 18 years old," says Mannie. "He
was an incredible quarterback who could throw the ball 60 to 70
yards." But after a year on the freshman team, which was 10-deep
in some positions, Jesse transferred to North Carolina A&T, a
predominantly black college closer to his home state of South

Mannie and Vaughn, however, stayed at Illinois. In those years
the letter of the law was about the only thing that had changed
for blacks. "There were no barber shops for me, there were no
fraternities for me, there was nothing at the university set
aside or thought about for a person of color," says Mannie. "I
feel I was robbed of four socially developmental years at the
university because of the racial situation."

After graduating in 1960 with a liberal arts degree, Jackson
took his jumper to New York, intent on making the NBA. He
started in the National Industrial Basketball League, a
collection of company-run semipro teams whose players were also
being trained for the corporate world. When Jackson failed to
make the New York Knicks--a slight he attributes to an unwritten
rule that limited the number of blacks in the NBA--he decided to
delay his business career a few years and play for the
Globetrotters. Like many others before him, he fell under the
spell of Abe Saperstein.

Apart from the fact that both had attended Illinois, the two
made an unlikely pair. Saperstein, the son of Polish immigrants
and the founder, owner and coach of the Globetrotters, was a
small, elderly Jewish man. But he took Jackson under his wing.
As the Trotters toured the U.S. and the world, Saperstein would
take Jackson to meet businessmen and heads of state, including
Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev.

Saperstein was "a mentor," says Jackson. "He was probably one of
a handful of white adults at that time who I thought cared about
me personally. He always moved me to the head of the pack."

Saperstein also encouraged Jackson to continue his studies,
which Jackson did in his spare time and in the off-seasons.
Shortly after Saperstein's death in 1966, Jackson left the
Trotters to pursue his master's degree in economics at the
University of Detroit, but he left the program in 1968 to take a
job in the personnel department at Honeywell, the
Minneapolis-based industrial controls company. By the early '80s
Jackson was managing the Venture Center, Honeywell's
new-ventures division.

Jackson thrived in the business environment, acquiring and
restructuring numerous companies for Honeywell and building
several from scratch. In 1986 Jackson helped form the Executive
Leadership Council, a networking organization for
African-American Fortune 500 executives, and in 1991 he was
promoted to senior vice president at Honeywell. Two years later
Black Enterprise magazine named Jackson one of the 40 most
powerful and influential black corporate executives in the U.S.

The business and basketball cultures came together for Jackson
two years ago, when he acquired the Globetrotters for $6
million. Jackson had hoped to form an investment team to start
an NBA franchise in San Diego, but when he was unable to do so
he turned to the Trotters. At the time the team was owned by the
International Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), which had filed
for bankruptcy protection in 1991. Jackson and his partners
crunched the numbers and decided they had found an undervalued
investment winner.

"Businesses are the same, and there are some fundamentals that
you have to apply," says Jackson. "You have to have good people
and a good product, you have to know your market and your
customers, and you have to communicate. I felt I could use these
principles to redo the Globetrotters."

But the team's poor financial health under IBC was not all that
needed to be addressed. The Globetrotters' image, as exemplified
by the mugging and hijinks of Goose Tatum and Meadowlark Lemon,
seemed hopelessly dated and sometimes embarrassing. Also, the
NBA had eaten into the Trotters' audience. Finally, the talent
pool for the Trotters had shrunk as the Continental Basketball
Association and European pro leagues recruited second-tier
African-American players. By the early 1990s, the "Houdinis of
the Hardcourt," who had once played in front of 75,000
spectators at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, were steadily losing
their audience and, "more important," says Jackson, "completely
losing their relevance."

Jackson acted quickly to revamp the Globetrotters' tired
business. On the basketball side, he kept former Trotter
teammate Tex Harrison as coach but replaced much of the roster,
updated the music, introduced a mascot named Globie, resurrected
a second touring team and scheduled games against opponents
other than the Generals. On the business and marketing side,
Jackson signed up corporate sponsors such as Northwest Airlines,
Sony and Apple; has made plans with Columbia Pictures to produce
a feature film about the early days of the Trotters; and
increased the team's commitment to charity and youth work. With
two teams playing more than 150 games apiece this year, Jackson
says, the Trotters' gross revenues will top $25 million, with an
operating profit of about $700,000.

On the court, however, the new-age Globetrotters aren't
completely new. They still play comedy basketball and use such
hallmark routines as the water-bucket gag and the trick ball.
Sweet Lou Dunbar, who is embarking on his farewell tour, still
cracks up the audience with his showmanship (Paul [Showtime]
Gaffney will replace Dunbar as the team's marquee showman in
1996), and Curly Boo Johnson still dazzles the crowd with
dribbling moves. But Jackson has also asked the team to try to
raise social awareness, and he takes pains to prepare his
players to talk with young people and to conduct charity events.

"I have the opportunity to impact about two million people a
year around the world," says Jackson. "I can tell people outside
the U.S. about the greatness of this country. I can go into
inner-city Philadelphia or St. Louis and give hope to black
children. I can have my team give a clinic to white kids in
Boise, Idaho, and let them listen to thoughtful people like
Showtime Gaffney and Silky Perkins. People can see that these
tall black athletes in red-white-and-blue uniforms are serious
human beings."

Jackson's rags-to-riches experience has convinced him that he
can change people's thinking on the tricky subject of race
relations. "I think the most significant thing about the
Globetrotters being owned by a black man is not just that I'm
African-American," says Jackson. "It's that I'm committed, and
I'm bright, and I'm hard-working, and I have a vision of where
we're going. If I were African-American and stupid, then I'd be
a disaster."

This is the second story for SI by David Davis, who is the
sports editor at the L.A. Weekly.

B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS Harrison (left) and Jackson, here in '62, are a team again. [Tex Harrison and Mannie Jackson]COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS Jackson wants players (from left) Mario Green, Osborne Lockhart and Dunbar to add a message to their act. [Mario Green, Mannie Jackson, Osborne Lockhart and Sweet LouDunbar]