Vocalion Records | Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra | "Shine" and "I Ain't Got Nobody (And Nobody Cares for Me) | 1929 | 78-RPM Record

Decca Records | Ella Fitzgerald and Her Savoy Eight | "Once is Enough For Me" and "Don't Worry 'bout Me" | 1939 | 78-RPM Record

Okeh Records | Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom Five | "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "No One Else But You" | 1928 | 78-RPM Record

Numerous popular jazz orchestras played at ballrooms used as basketball venues by African American teams. Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra were one of several Renaissance Ballroom house bands that played during New York Rens home games.

New York Renaissance basketball team, winners of inaugural World Championship of Professional Basketball in Chicago | 1939 | Reproduction

When the New York Rens won the inaugural World Championship of Professional Basketball in 1939, it was a watershed moment not only for blacks but also for the entire country. Having won 1,673 of 1,944 total games – more than 86% – since their founding by owner Bob Douglas in 1923, the New York Rens were the best basketball team of the decade. “It is time we dropped the ‘colored’ champions title,” wrote the New York Evening Telegram.

Poster promoting the Chicago Crusaders professional basketball team, featuring Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, Dave DeJernette, and Donahue “Donny” Goins | 1939

Letter from Clarence “Fats” Jenkins to “Manager of Independent Basketball Team, La Crosse, Wis” | December 13, 1939 | Letter and envelope

The financial fate of a team depended on the abilities of its promoter, who had to out-do competitors vying for limited booking dates in the same towns. In 1939, the Chicago Crusaders hired former New York Rens star Clarence “Fats” Jenkins as player, manager, and promoter. The Crusaders were one of the finest and most popular all-black teams of the 1930s, featuring an array of former and future New York Rens and Harlem Globe Trotters stars.

William “Dolly” King on the cover of The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, Vol. 48, No. 1, January 1941, Whole No. 36 | 1941

William “Dolly” King was one of America’s greatest athletes during the late 1930s and 1940s. A three-sport All-City high school star in Brooklyn, King attended Long Island University where, as captain from 1938 to 1941, he led their varsity basketball team to 39 straight wins spanning his first two seasons. In January 1941, King left undefeated LIU mid-season to sign a professional contract with the New York Rens. Whites-only professional leagues did not draft African-American players at that time.

Souvenir Scorecard, (SPHAs vs Rens, Original Celtics vs Detroit) | Invitational Pro Basketball Tournament sponsored by Max Rosenblum for the Benefit of the MUNY Basketball Ass’n., Public Auditorium, Cleveland, March 1, 2, 1941

In late February 1941, the New York Rens were headed to Cleveland as one of four teams competing in the inaugural Max Rosenblum Invitational Professional Basketball Tournament, then on to Chicago for the World Championship of Professional Basketball. At stake was a share of the substantial prize money offered – $1,500 in Cleveland and $10,000 in Chicago.

William “Dolly” King in Official Program, Rochester Royals Basketball Club, 1946-1947 Season | 1946

William “Dolly” King (1916-1969) in an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity sweatshirt ca. 1938-41 | Photograph | Michael King Collection

William “Dolly” King played in four World Championship of Professional Basketball tournaments, with the New York Rens (1941, 1948), Grumman Flyers (1942), and Washington Bears (1943). He won the title with the Bears. In 1946, King integrated the National Basketball League, signing with the Rochester Royals. After retiring from basketball, King became a professor of physical education at Manhattan Community College.

Exhibition | Start | Back | Next | End