One of the first women to pursue a career in sports – not on a court or a field, but in the front office– Eloise Saperstein Berkley, passed away on Sunday, July 15, in her native Chicago, at age 81. Saperstein Berkley was the daughter of Harlem Globetrotters’ founder and owner Abe Saperstein.
Saperstein Berkley took over ownership of the Globetrotters in 1966, following the death of her father. She traveled the globe extensively with her father and the Globetrotters and was instrumental in helping advance the Globetrotters as the world’s most beloved sports team. She also established an impactful non-profit in his name designed to advance opportunities through sports for Chicago’syouth and later became the first woman ever certified as an NBA player representative.
“Eloise was not only a pivotal figure in the history of the Globetrotters, but a hugely influential figure in basketball and sports,” said Globetrotter President Howard Smith. “She loved the Globetrotters and was passionate about her father’s legacy. Her impact will continue to be felt for years to come.”
Under Saperstein Berkley’s direction, the Abe Saperstein Foundation established free summer camps for Chicago’s under resourced youth at which Saperstein’s lifelong friends, who happened to be NBA stars themselves, along with high school and college coaches, counseled campers on how to leverage their basketball skills into college opportunities and lifelong careers.
She later had the Foundation launch basketball clinics throughout Chicago’s inner-city that delivered a message of utilizing sports as a ladder of educational advancement. Some of the professional players who joined Saperstein Berkley in her summer trek of basketball/education clinics throughout Chicago’s South and West sides were Bob Love, Norm Van Lier, Artis Gilmore and Harlem Globetrotter stars Leon Hillard, Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. In order to make her message of securing an education through sports more of a tangible reality, Saperstein Berkley organized well-attended summer leagues, first at Chicago-State University on Chicago’s south side and later at Malcolm X College.
Saperstein Berkley later organized summer leagues through the Foundation to showcase Chicago’syouth to potential scholarship opportunities, drawing the participation of players that included Isiah Thomas, Rickey Green and Bo Ellis. And when several players she had known since grade school complained of being taken advantage of by agents, Saperstein Berkley became the first woman certified by the National Basketball Players Association to represent players. She successfully represented several NBA as well as foreign professional players, including first round draft pick Alfrederick “The Great” Hughes from Loyola College, and placed the country’s former Secretary of Education, Chicago native Arne Duncan, with an Australian professional team following his playing career at Harvard.
In addition to her work with the Globetrotters and with the Abe Saperstein Foundation, Saperstein Berkley also once owned the New York Sets of World Team Tennis, one of the first women’s professional tennis teams, which featured Wimbledon champion and all-time great player, Virginia Wade.
Saperstein Berkley is survived by three children: Lonni Berkley; Avi Berkley (Susan Dominic); and Abra Berkley (Tony Ryba). She is also survived by five grandchildren: Brandon Berkley-Vigil (Dipa Patel);Abraham Berkley-Vigil (Xuan Li) Sylvia Ryba; Ely Ryba, Aaron Ryba and many members of her extended family and friends. Funeral services are set for Tuesday, July 17 at 1 p.m. at Temple Jeremiah in Northfield, Ill. (937 N. Happ Road)