Robert “Bob” Douglas was by far the most successful basketball team owner of the Black Fives Era.

On October 24, 1923, Douglas announced his plans to debut an all-black fully professional basketball team called the New York Renaissance, or “Rens” for short.

Bob Douglas

Robert “Bob” Douglas

Its hard to imagine a world without professional basketball, isn’t it?! Today’s players are household names and some, like Jordan and LeBron, have become brands. Everyone watches, and we’d give almost anything to sit court side near Jay-Z and Beyonce, wouldn’t we? It’s a multi-billion dollar global industry.

But it wasn’t always that way!

100 years ago, getting paid to play basketball was considered evil and immoral! “Professionalism has ruined every branch of athletics to which it has come,” said this guy named Luther Gulick, the boss of basketball’s inventor, James Naismith.

That’s because the YMCA invented basketball, an organization established to keep young men away from alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, sex, and other tempting vices.

The public believed pay-for-play basketball was sinful! Was it as hard for a young, inexperienced, unprivileged, transplanted native of St. Kitts to start a pro basketball team in New York City then, as it is to buy an NBA franchise now? Or harder?

Douglas Headline

Douglas succeeded by letting other African American owners test the water while he watched and learned. By the time he was ready, critics were willing to accept professionalism because of who Douglas was and how he did it.

Douglas’ attitude determined his success. He started with nothing, so he was grateful for everything. He became known everywhere as “Smilin’ Bob.” People loved him. No one could say no! Then, his vision, energy, and desire were so big, and his focus so clear, that nothing could stop him! He was smilin’, but his plans were no joke.

Can’t we fast-forward to understand how the principles of success that worked for Douglas can apply to us today? Here’s a quote from a book I like called Think and Grow Rich, which Douglas probably read when it hit bookshelves in 1937:

“One sound idea is all that one needs to achieve success.”

The author, a guy named Napoleon Hill, also said this:

“Back of all this demand for new and better things, there is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.”

Rens, 1923

An early image of the New York “Rens” basketball team.

Is your idea sound? Are you definite about what you want? Can you write it down on a piece of paper with a specific date by which you want it? Do you want it badly enough to lose those habits, beliefs, and fears that are in your way? Hmm, we’ll see! That’s exactly what Bob Douglas did (more details another day), and so did everyone else who ever became stupendously successful regardless of background.

Robert “Bob” Douglas made history and is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame today. So are the New York Rens, which, in my opinion, were the greatest basketball team of the last century.

If he can do it, I can do it.

What are you doing next to make history now?

(Photo of Robert Douglas courtesy of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.)