Obituary:'Big Frank' Washington, Harlem Globetrotters star, dead at 91
Frank Washington, 91, a Germantown native who played with the Harlem Globetrotters when the world-famous team actually competed (and beat nearly all comers), died Thursday, Jan. 24, at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
He had suffered from heart disease, said the Rev. Marshall Mitchell, a cousin. Mr. Washington, who lived in Upper Roxborough, required dialysis treatment for nearly two decades.
Mr. Washington, known as "Big Frank," also played for the legendary New York Renaissance black basketball team for a season before volunteering for the Navy in World War II.
From 1946 to 1960, the 6-foot-5 Mr. Washington played center for the Globetrotters with the likes of William "Pop" Gates, Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton, "Meadowlark" Lemon, and Wilt Chamberlain.
The team toured the world, including a series of games in Moscow in 1959 during the height of the Cold War.
"A Soviet audience of 14,000 sat almost silently, as if in awe, through the first half of the game," according to a United Press International report. "It warmed up slightly in the second half when it realized the Trotters are more show than competition."
During one outdoor game in Europe, they played in the rain while holding umbrellas, Mitchell said. "They were that good," he said.
After his basketball career, Mr. Washington joined Pepsi-Cola, working in advertising, then sales, and rising to the position of community relations manager.
Mr. Washington is featured in a mural, sponsored by Pepsi-Cola, on Chelten Avenue near Wayne Avenue.
He was born and raised in Germantown and graduated from Germantown High School.
Before joining the Navy, he played one season for the New York Renaissance. Several other players on the "Rens" came from Philadelphia and had played with Mr. Washington at the Christian Street YMCA, the hot spot for the city's best youth players.
Mr. Washington played basketball while in the Navy and his skills caught the eye of Abe Saperstein, who ran the Globetrotters - and who, Mr. Washington later complained, kept most of the money. Mr. Washington played briefly with the Washington Bears before joining the Globetrotters.
"I had a good career with the Globetrotters," Mr. Washington told the Philadelphia Tribune last year. "I enjoyed it. If it had not been for the Globetrotters, there would not have been an NBA as we know it."
He is survived by his wife, Barbara Merriweather; son Frank Jr.; sister Eunice Green; and three grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at Salem Baptist Church, 610 Summit Ave., Jenkintown.
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