Raw footage for "Once a Star." Interview with Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, one of the first black players in the NBA and former Harlem Globetrotter.
0:00Copy video clip URL Clifton getting out of cab across the street in front of Du Sable High School. Interview proceeds in front of the school entrance. Clifton graduated from Du Sable in 1943, went to Xavier University for a year, and then was drafted into the army. He says “this has always been a nice school,” and explains that Du Sable was one of only two all-black schools in Chicago, and many talented athletes came out of there.
2:23Copy video clip URL Says he broke the point-scoring record in high school for their tournament at Chicago University. He is 6’6″, and was always strong. He explains that he got his name because he never smoke or drank, and his friends were always offering him the “sweet water.”
4:04Copy video clip URL Clifton is asked how he felt being on the Globetrotters and knowing that his team was much more talented than most NBA players, yet they were paid far less. In his answer, he focuses more on the talent of his fellow players than on the racial inequality.
5:55Copy video clip URL Clifton says that the most fun he had playing basketball was in high school, since all the kids from the neighborhood would play together, and he was just learning the game. Lists some of the coaches at the school. Talks about the old fieldhouse at Washington Park where they would play, and how its ceilings were barely taller than him. Says that kids today have all the resources to be good, and they just need to put in the time practicing.
7:50Copy video clip URL Abe Sapperstein “was the greatest promoter that ever lived.” Says he could promote anything, but he was not a real coach.
8:44Copy video clip URL “Where did you learn the most?” Says that all-in-all, at the Knicks, but the coach didn’t really know the game. Roger Wallenstein tells him that his former coach described him as talented, but undisciplined. Clifton is mystified by this statement, saying that he was always outnumbered [racially] on that team, and that he was always the last to hear about any news. He says he always did exactly what the coach told him to do, and never shot when he wasn’t supposed to. He says his role was to get a rebound and guard the toughest guy on the other team. “I wasn’t free to run around like the guys do today. I had something for me to do.” Explains why the 24-second shot clock came into effect.
11:26Copy video clip URL Cut to some kids who were crowding around to watch. Clifton continues to talk about the frequency of shooting other people were allowed, and how he played the role he was given as perfectly as he could.
13:18Copy video clip URL “I’ve had a good life. Nobody mistreated me… I don’t let anybody run on me… But I’m nice to everybody and everybody’s nice to me.” Lists some of the black players who came into the NBA in the 1950s after he set the precedent.
15:16Copy video clip URL Talks about Abe Sapperstein. Says he was very fair to his players and never cheated anyone. In response to the fact that salaries have increased so dramatically since his day: “I wish I could be 30 years younger so I could get it [the million dollar salaries].” Addresses the fact that he doesn’t get a pension. “I’m not really hurt about it, it doesn’t really kill me. I’m going to live the rest of my life anyways, poor or rich.”
17:34Copy video clip URL Cut to another set of onlookers. Clifton describes how he came to be a baseball player. Talks about playing softball growing up. He says that Sapperstein told Bill Veeck he could play baseball, there was a bet, and so he went into the minor leagues and did well. But he ultimately was taken out of baseball – “In those days you looked out for yourself, and he [Sapperstein] wanted to look out for the Globetrotters.” “In those days I was considered a pretty tall guy. It wasn’t like it is today. I was a giant in those days. That’s what Abe wanted me for.”
19:46Copy video clip URL Tape ends.