Al "Runt" Pullins
Al “Runt” Pullins was one of the original members of the Harlem Globetrotters and a mainstay in African American professional basketball in Chicago for several decades. Pullins was born in Chicago on November 23, 1909, and began playing in the Boys Club at the age of seven. In 1928, he led the Phillips High lightweight team to the Chicago Public High School League championship over Harrison High, in a 32-10 landslide victory. He got his nickname for his diminutive size, at 5’8’’ tall.
After his high school career was over, Pullins for a while attended Morris Brown University in Atlanta. But he was soon back in Chicago heavily immersed in the amateur basketball scene there, and by early 1929 was leading his own team, alternately called the Runt Pullins’ All-Stars or the South Side Boys Club Comets. Pullins had become by this time one of the best known African American basketball stars in Chicago. Thus, when Abe Saperstein put together his original Harlem Globetrotters team in January 1929, he recruited Pullins to go with Walter “Toots” Wright, Byron “Fat” Long, William “Kid” Oliver, and Andy Washington, all from Phillips High, making the first Harlem Globetrotters team an all-Phillips High alumni team. One of the first games they played was against the Hinckley Merchants, in Hinckley, Illinois, on January 21, 1929 (in the Globetrotters official history this date had been moved back to 1927).
Pullins was the early star for the Globetrotters, and as the team toured the Midwest, racking up victories, he was usually the scoring leader. In the winter of 1934, however, Saperstein changed the compensation structure, from the team splitting the gate (which could go as high as $40 dollars a game) to being paid a fix sum of $7.50 per person. The Globetrotters were now Saperstein’s employees with greatly reduced compensation. Pullins and several other Globetrotters immediately quit, and Pullins formed his own team, calling themselves the “Harlem Globetrotters” in their first Midwest tour, competing directly against Saperstein’s team. The following year, Pullins called his team the New York Globetrotters and then the Broadway Clowns.
Pullins toured with team for the next several decades, usually under the name Harlem Clowns, barnstorming all over the United States, and in Canada, Mexico, and Asia. His team was one of the more successful Harlem Globetrotter knockoffs. In 1945 and 1946, however, he served as player-coach for the Henry Goss's Chicago Collegians, a rival group to Agis Bray and his Orignal Collegians.
Pullins kept the Harlem Clowns together until 1983, when he fell ill. Pullins died in October 1985, in Chicago.