To celebrate the start of Black History Month 2016, we launched a new feature called the Artifact of the Week.
The Artifact of the Week will give items from our revamped Black Fives Foundation Historical Archive a chance to get into the limelight and tell their own stories. Every week we will share a new artifact along with some insights about the piece and what makes it relevant today.
This week’s featured artifact was one of over 200 important items that was displayed in the Black Fives Exhibition at the New-York Historical Society Museum in 2014.
It is a press pass for media access to the Tenth Annual World’s Championship of Professional Basketball, staged in April 1948 at Chicago Stadium. This is a revealing piece of ephemera because it not only shows details about the event but also confirms the important role that the press played in promoting the tournament. It marked the beginning of “big-time” newspaper coverage for the pro game.
The World Championship of Professional Basketball, sponsored by the Chicago Herald-American, had begun in 1939 as an idea whose time had come. It was the brainchild of the newspaper’s sports editor, Edward W. Cochrane. “At the time there were no less than a score of professional basketball teams, all advertising themselves as world’s champions,” Cochrane remembered in 1941. The tournament was born “out of the chaos of these conflicting claims,” he said. So they decided to settle the chaos once and for all.
The clear-sighted inclusion by the Herald-American of African American teams from the outset gave legitimacy to the tournament as well as to professional basketball itself.
The participants for the 1948 edition were the Anderson Duffey Packers, Bridgeport (CT) Newfield Steelers, Fort Wayne Zoellner Pistons, Indianapolis Kautskys, Minneapolis Lakers, New York Rens, Tri-City Blackhawks, and Wilkes-Barre (PA) Barons.
The 1948 tournament, which would be the last of the invitation-only events, came down to one play in the title game between the Minneapolis Lakers of the National Basketball League and the independent barnstorming all-black New York Renaissance Big Five, known as the “Rens.”
The Rens lost due to a critical late game turnover on a fast break possession that would have tied the score. Many, including at least one Rens player on the court at the time, would later insist that that errant pass out of bounds by the normally sure-passing Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton was intentional. Clifton, who was named to the All Tournament team, would later play for the New York Knicks as one of the first three African-Americans in the NBA. Lakers star George Mikan, a future Hall of Fame member, was the tournament MVP.
Final score: Lakers 75, Rens 71.
 Cochrane, Edward W., World Championship of Professional Basketball Program, 1941.