“Game of the Week
Harlem Globetrotters at CUA
November 19, 7 p.m.
DuFour Center – Tickets $10”
The Tower, November 16, 2001
So exclaimed the student newspaper just days away from the 2001 matchup between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Cardinals men basketball team. But what does this mean? Why were the Globetrotters playing in Brookland? In what may come as one of the more surprising matchups in basketball history, the legendary exhibition team came to the campus 20 years ago this week to challenge the reigning Division III National Champions, the Cardinal men.
The year 2001 marked the 90th anniversary of the men’s basketball team formally existing on campus. That same year, the team secured its first-ever national championship. While numerous Cardinal teams of all sports had performed well in the past – ranging from football triumphs to boxing achievements – this marked the first team national championship in the University’s history.
While sports were played around campus beginning as early as the 1890s, the first organized basketball games at CatholicU occurred in 1909-10 as a club sport. This was barely twenty years after the sport was first developed in Massachusetts by Dr.James Neismann in 1891. While initially only a club sport played amongst nearby DC universities, with Catholic’s first game being against Gallaudet – it would not be long until the sport achieved official status on campus. During the 1911-12 season, Catholic University would formally organize its first official team.
The coach was Fred Rice, a graduate student and CatholicU player with additional experience from his time as a law student at Georgetown, where he played basketball with the Hoyas from 1907-1910, before coming to CatholicU. The team ended their first season under Rice’s management with a 10-7 game record. Rice would go on to coach the Cardinals for the next 19 years, until the 1930 season.
In the subsequent decades, as the nation and NCAA changed, the team would see itself going to Division I and Division II tournaments in 1944 and 1964, respectively, although they would fail to make the mark for championships both times. By the 1980s, women’s basketball would join the roster of official campus sports. And beginning in the 1981-82 seasons, the Cardinals would enter Division III.
Throughout the late 1990s, the Cardinals would soar high each season, only to fall short at the last moment. But that all changed in the 2000-2001 season. On March 17, 2001, the Cardinals would face off against William Paterson University in Salem, Virginia, fighting for the title of NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Champions. Under the direction of Coach Mike Lonergan, the Cardinals would emerge triumphant with a score of 76-62.
Having earned the first team national championship in the University’s history, and finishing the season 28-5, the men’s basketball team was rightly feted! But even as the victory was being celebrated, a new challenger was emerging. At the time, the Globetrotters would often challenge college teams to exhibition games, particularly championship teams. Catholic University, as defending champions of the 2001 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship was fair game for playing, although this game would mark the first time that the Globetrotters had played a Division III team. Despite this, Catholic remained undaunted by the competition. The Tower claimed, “Although the Globetrotters will be the toughest game in Cardinal History, CUA basketball has faced tough competition in the past.”
In the leadup to the game, Catholic University unveiled its 2001 championship banner. And the game began! The Tower reports how the “‘Trotters Dazzle DuFour Crowds” with “reverse layups and fancy slam dunks” ending in a hard-fought victory over the Cardinal men. As the evening faded, the Cardinals and Globetrotters shook hands. The final score was 90-46, Globetrotters.
CUA handled their loss gracefully however. “It was great to have a huge crowd out to watch us,” said head coach Mike Lonergan. “I hate losing though, even if we’re playing the Lakers,” he added with a grin. – The Tower, November 30, 2001
Footage of the game and photographs are held in the Athletic records in the University Archives.
Learn more about the rich history, as well as detailed account of the 2001 championship game, in Chris McManes’s centennial history of CUA men’s basketball – Flight of the Cardinals: A 100-year History of CUA Men’s Basketball