Claude Johnson takes you on a 2-minute video tour of the spots in Harlem that link to this unique artifact, plus an unexpected degree of separation to a New York City sports legend!
This week’s artifact is a rare promotional medallion in the Black Fives Historical Archive that is the earliest known in-arena give-way in basketball.
It was conceived and used by Will Anthony Madden, the manager of the St. Christopher Club of Harlem, to bring more patrons to an upcoming game with Howard University at the Manhattan Casino on West 155th Street and Eighth Avenue by celebrating the rivalry between the two amateur club teams.
This history and these locations (in the video) also link to legendary playground director Holcombe Rucker in a surprising way.
In 1905, Will Anthony Madden began his rise to national stardom by joining the St. Christopher Club, a youth athletic organization, first as a volunteer editor of its Red Raven newsletter and then as the basketball team’s mascot.
He temporarily left the St. Christopher Club in 1910 to help Major Aloysius Hart with the New York All Stars, but returned as the team’s manager in 1912, building it up to championship level status with innovative coaching and a flare for promotion that became his trademark.
His head coach during this time was Jeff Wetzler, who was known for his pioneering work with early Jewish basketball programs on the Lower East Side.
Madden promoted this game between his St. Christopher Club team and rival Howard University on March 20, 1914, by advertising it as, “For the Basket Ball Championship of the Entire Country,” with an incentive: “Miniature basket balls will be given to every box holder and lady as a souvenir of this great game.”
The maker of the piece, made of silk and gold-toned metal, is the famous New York City jeweler Dieges & Clust. This prominent artisan also produced the 1904 Olympic Gold Medal, the Medal of Honor, the Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Medal, and the early Heisman Trophies.