The Harlem Globetrotters have a new teammate -- Pope John Paul II. The pontiff was made an honourary member of the comedic basketball troupe at Vatican City on Wednesday.

John Paul met with Globetrotters owner and chairman Mannie Jackson, plus five players wearing their trademark red, white and blue warmup suits.

He was presented with an autographed basketball and his own named and numbered jersey, No. 75, and posed for photographs.

The Globetrotters are celebrating their 75th anniversary.

"We bring a message of hope to kids around the world," Jackson said. "Meeting the pope puts the message in focus."

Jackson and the players flew to Rome specifically for the audience with the pope before returning to the United States later in the day.

The Globetrotters are the most travelled team in basketball history, having played thousands of exhibition games in 115 countries.

Not to be outdone, John Paul has visited 122 countries during his 22-year papacy.

"We are catching up to him," Globetrotters spokesman Brett Meister quipped.

The Globetrotters are no strangers to Vatican City, however, having made five previous visits.

They also met Pope Pius XII in 1951 and 1952, John XXIII in 1959 and 1963, and Paul VI in 1968.