Former Harlem Globetrotter shares story of journey from addict to earning Ph.D. Nov. 15 at Vanderbilt University

John Kline‘s life has been one of extremes. He went from a life of celebrity – traveling the world as a member of the famed Harlem Globetrotters basketball team – to struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to earning a doctorate from Wayne State University.

He will share his story Thursday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. at Vanderbilt University’s Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center. The event, which is free and open to the public, is part of the center’s Living History Series. A podcast of Kline’s talk will be available at

Kline, known as “Jumpin’ Johnny” Kline, was an All-American basketball player at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit when he joined the Harlem Globetrotters in 1953. He played with the team until 1959 and during that time traveled the world and attended state dinners at which he met leaders from many countries. Among the places he traveled are Africa, Australia, China, Cuba, Hong Kong and South America.

However, it was after his return to Detroit in 1960 – his international celebrity lifestyle over – that he became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

While many stories of addiction offer little hope, Kline’s is one of the exceptions. He changed his life and was able to return to Wayne State University where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in history and philosophy of education.

He has worked for the state of Michigan in substance abuse and patient rights, started his own company in health promotion and wellness and was appointed director of drug prevention services – a post he served in for seven years – by Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young. He also served as director of Drug-Free Schools and Communities for Detroit Public Schools.

Kline founded and is president of The Black Legends of Professional Basketball Foundation, which helps recognize and support the many pioneering professional basketball players that paved the way for the NBA. He also developed the Youth Athletic Enrichment Program (YAEP) in Detroit’s middle schools. The program is designed to expose students in inner-city middle schools to different experiences through the student/athlete leader concept – much like Kline’s experiences helped him learn the possibilities of a different life for himself.

He led the efforts that resulted in the Michigan Senate passing Resolution 286, which recognized the African American pioneers of professional basketball and the 109th Congress issuing Resolution 57, which also honored the pioneer players.

Kline, who has authored seven books, has been inducted into the African American Hall of Fame, Wayne State University’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the Harlem Globetrotters’ Legends Circle.

For more information about the event, call the Bishop Joseph Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt at 615-322-2524 or visit

Media Contact: Princine Lewis, 615-322-NEWS

Explore Story Topics