Carl Green was there when the National Basketball Association had not one single Black player in the league. He was then a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem.
In 1953, Earl Lloyd, Sweetwater Clifton and Chuck Cooper eased quietly into the NBA: Cooper in Boston, Lloyd in Detroit and Clifton in New York with the Knicks.
In 1953, Green and Jack DeFares received letters from Michigan State offering them scholarships. It didn’t work out and they went south to Winston Salem Teachers College in North Carolina, where legendary Hall of Famer Clarence “Big House” Gaines was the coach.
“We laughed about putting those schools on the map,” recalled Green, who stayed for a season then returned home. DeFares stayed and, over the course of four years, graduated. Today, DeFares remains in a select group who were named among the top 25 players in the history of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Prior to making the move to North Carolina, both Green and DeFares had been named first-team All-New York City. Green still has the letters from Michigan State and Seton Hall University after all these years.
“They offered those scholarships on Pop Gates’ word,” said Green, who got a job in the Garment Center. Pop Gates, the legendary New York Renaissance star, considered by many to have been the greatest player of his time, was on the 1939 Rens team that won the first-ever World Professional Basketball Championship in Chicago. Gates, after retiring, was a coach with the Harlem Globetrotters and hooked up Green.
“Pop got me started,” he said. “I would have never played with the Trotters if not for him. I was on Pop’s East team. We played in all the big cities. I played with Charlie Hoxie, Bob Hall and Leon Wagner, both from Detroit. Abe [Saperstein] put me on the team with Bob Hall that went to Europe in the summer of 1956. Woody Saulsbury was also on the team.
“When we got to Europe, Abe cut everybody’s money where everything was cheaper than in the states,” noted Green, who made a habit of sending his money back home to his mother, who banked it for him.
“That was great,” he continued. “We played in Scotland, England, France, Sweden and Italy. We even went behind the Iron Curtain.”
Green was overwhelmed when the Trotters played in Germany and went behind the Berlin Wall. ‘That was something,” he recalled.
He remembered the tiny rooms they stayed in while in Germany. “Wasn’t first class,” he said with a laugh. “We went to China on one tour. We all had coats made in Hong Kong. On one tour we went to Hawaii, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. It was fantastic.”
Green recalled how on one tour they were in France, walking through the streets of Paris and checking out the girls. “I was amazed that Abe didn’t want us talking to the white girls, so the late Woody Saulsbury asked Abe, ‘So where are the Black ones?’”
“Abe never talked or spoke to me,” recalled Green. “Maybe one or two times. That was deep. He seldom came on tours. The last time he cut my money, I left.”
However, not before Green played on the annual college tour, where the Trotters played a series of games against college all-stars. “We wore them out most of the time, especially when we played serious ball.”
When Green quit the Trotters for good, he played on a college tour with Wilt Chamberlain. They became great friends and business partners in real estate. Green got a tryout with the then-Philadelphia Warriors, now the 76ers. He made the team and they offered him a contract of $7,000 per year. Green wanted $10,000, plus they wanted him to play guard.
Standing 6-foot-5, Green knew he couldn’t play the guard position in the NBA. When they insisted, Green recalled, “You know, I was fast, but that wasn’t my position. I wasn’t going to go out there and try to guard those little guards.”
So, when Eddie Gottlieb refused to sign Green for the $10,000, he packed up and returned to New York. Chamberlain urged him to reconsider, but anyone who knows Green knew he would never back down. He went and spent 10 or so years in the Eastern League, becoming one of its top stars.
“I just wanted to be treated fairly,” said Green, who has lived his life with the lessons he learned from his mother. “I don’t bother nobody, but I don’t want nobody to bother me. Don’t do anything to anyone that you don’t want done to you.”