ESPN Features Black Fives Era History (Video)

On February 26, 2010, in Business, Culture, Family, History, NBA, Race, Relationships, by Claude Johnson

ESPN’s feature about the Black Fives Era was great for viewers, the network, descendants, historians, NBA players, and league execs; it raised awareness while increasing the audience for this topic.

Johnson on Outside The Lines

ESPN’s feature segment about the Black Fives Era, which aired yesterday on the show “Outside The Lines,” was really great.

In case you missed it, here is the full segment posted below. After you watch, please share your opinion about it with ESPN, because your feedback really matters. Thank you.

It was great from several angles: for viewers, for the network, for descendants of the Black Fives Era, for historians of this period, for NBA players, for league officials, and for all of here at

For viewers, it was perhaps the most visibility that this pre-NBA history of African American basketball teams has ever received.

For the network, this covered new ground.  Kudos to them for making this leap of faith and determination.  It means ESPN just raised the awareness level of this genre while also increasing the audience for it.  Moreover, my inbox was flooded with emails from people wanting to see more, and hear more of what I had to say.  I see that as an opportunity.

And, T.J. Quinn, the show’s host, was exceptional with the material.

For descendants, this feature raised their visibility as a group.  The live guests were perfect, and when ESPN invited Mark Moore to appear — he’s the descendant of Black Fives Era pioneer Ferdinand Accooe — it was his first time on national television.

Mark has contributed to this blog, and he did a wonderful job on TV!  A few nights ago he was asking himself, “What am I gonna do on Thursday night?”  Then I called.  Now he’s on national TV!   He’s a natural, and it’s all because he just decided he’s got a passion for researching and documenting his own family history.  So that’s an example of people creating something from nothing.

I was in the studio in Bristol, Ct. to see the broadcast from a “live” behind the scenes perspective. I also got a partial tour and met some of the many professionals responsible for creating the piece. A lot of work went into it. The entire production team was grateful that they had a chance to learn something they felt was really cool.

Outside The Lines logo

Meanwhile, historians are always happy to see fellow historians on the air.  This gave that opportunity to fans of Ron Thomas, author of the book “They Cleared the Lane.”

It’s wonderful that “Satch” Sanders (who has eight NBA Championship rings) mentioned former New York Rens players John Isaacs, William “Pop” Gates, and Sonny Wood as being among the mentors and coaches who helped him develop into a great player and a finer person.

John Isaacs, Pop Gates, Sonny Wood on Outside The Lines

New York Rens players John Isaacs, ‘Pop’ Gates, and ‘Sonny’ Wood, who are mentioned in in the segment by former Celtics star ‘Satch’ Sanders.

Sanders’ story about that one time he sat down with a group of NBA rookies was outstanding (and funny), especially if it catches the attention of a few more NBA players.  For players in the league, what’s important is not the history so much as what they might be able to do with the lessons from those pioneers that might apply today.

And I’m hoping that some NBA execs were watching.  Many people from all over, including me, would love for us to be involved in some sort of collaboration with them, like seeing the New York Knicks wearing New York Rens uniforms one of these days.

For us, it was great to be able to supply all of the Black Fives Era images and artifacts that ESPN used, because it validates how beautiful these materials can look on a screen, thanks also to the network’s signature on-camera styling that they’ve used so successfully with vintage and classic topics.

And I believe that many people learned more about our company, Black Fives, Inc., and about our efforts, such as for example our new Black Fives Community Fund.

So I believe that overall it was a big success. And for us anyway this feature was a very important evolutionary step.

As a reminder, please do share your opinion about it with ESPN.  It’s important.

Thank you.

25 Responses to ESPN Features Black Fives Era History (Video)

  1. James says:

    Thanks, Claude. It was great.

    Overall, you are doing something very important (as you well know!) for all people – making sure that those talented players (forgotten, treated unjustly, miserably) become part of our American and global sports’ legacy; also that they become traditional (part of who we are as human beings in the profoundest sense) to posterity.

    With all our national and individual flaws of prejudice, racism, selfishness, we – as a country – are still the best experiment of democracy on earth, thanks, in part, to the agility and elegance of those players. They literally bore the cross of our terrible dark past of racism with grace and nobility – by playing with such favor and elegance on the ball court. If we are all entrusted with the care of others for a better America and global future, they cannot be forgotten. It would be unjust to forget them. They gather us out of our darkest moments of history and remind us what we are capable of doing, even under the worst possible conditions and miseries. They are heroes in that sense. They will always carry with them a portion of our times, our injustice, our history, but also a portion of our best selves as human beings, reminding us – reminding all people — that we are they and they are us, compelled at times to undertake excellence no matter what the price or how many left-handed blows we receive. In so doing they made visible — and will always make visible in our memories — the things the soul owns best in life, things like hope, team spirit, love, self-worth, confidence, reliance, dignity under great pressure, and faith. We must never forget these players. They are truly part of who we all are as human beings and will always be part of our national legacy.

    Anyway, Claude, you are the best. And thanks for alerting me about the program.

  2. Mark says:

    I love the Laptchicks! I actually sat on his grandsons (maybe his son’s) Richard Lapchick panel when I was a senior basketball player at Loyola Marymount. Just a random thought inspired from the video.

  3. Michael Jackson says:

    Claude it was great and I was speechless. I’m glad that ESPN gave me the opportunity to tell the story and with your help, we made our dream of getting the Black Fives era exposure on the grandest of stages. You are a true professional and I believe that you will be blessed because of your efforts.

  4. Wesley Greenwood says:

    Thanks, I have been a basketball fan sice the late 50′s and this is the first i have heard of the black 5 and then Rens. I am a Laker fan,i hate the Knicks and the Celtics, but it was good to here about their pioneering efforts thanks ESPN for a wonderful segment

  5. Ed says:

    was able to see the program. I enjoyed it. I found the program to be very informative. You did a great job. It was also interesting to hear that Kareem Abdul Jabbar is writing a book on the Rens. Will you be participating on the book project as well? What time in history and in sports. Amazing to endure the strong racism and to still have the sprit to become winners (The Rens). Thanks again for sharing.

  6. Pete says:

    Great piece, Claude. You look good, sound confident and come across sharp.

    The footage of The Black Fives stills and other items on the table – that yours or something ESPN shot?

  7. Kenny says:

    I enjoyed it Mr. Johnson, keep up the good work and Stay Strong…

  8. Casey says:

    AWESOME!!! You are a star – nicely done!!!

  9. Mrs. Edna Osborne says:

    All of this would have gone untold had it not been for your research. I really don’t watch much Sports, but you are making me hungry to know more about the contributions that our race made to Basketball. I had not heard of Mr. George Crowe or any of this history the Harlem Rens.

    I am a collector of Black History Books, but my Black Basketball History Books only date back to Wilt Chamberlain, “Wilt”, by Wilt Chamberlain and David Shaw and “Russell Rules”, by Bill Russell with David Falkner. I’ll stay tuned for more Black Basketball History.

  10. Carolyn says:

    I saw you! So proud of the work you do – you are my inspiration.

  11. Mike says:

    Great show, Claude! Congratulations on continuing to raise the awareness of this important era in our nation’s (and basketball’s) history.

  12. Norman says:

    The kids you work with ought to know this material. What better time to start than now.

  13. Chrystal says:

    I have been following your success and congratulate you on educating folks about little known Black History facts. I especially liked the beginning of the ESPN segment – ”Before there was a LeBron James or a Kobe Bryant…” Thank you, Claude, and keep on tellin” them!

  14. Kevin says:

    Great segment. I hope it brings the awareness and acknowledge to the ‘Black Five Era’, in addition to the early struggles with the NBA for inclusion.

  15. Joan says:

    Hey Claude – Awesome! I loved it!

  16. Scott says:

    Superb job! Great information. They were true gentleman and professionals back in those days. Too bad all sports/society in general is so “me” based now.

  17. Margo says:

    Thank you Claude-that was a great piece.

  18. Jeffrey says:

    Claude, I look forward to your Thought for Today.I enjoyed Outside the line.They could have given you more airtime.Have a good day.As they say in New Orleans WHO DAT.

  19. Greg says:

    That was a really nice segment. Congrats.

  20. Eric says:

    The video was great. As a 64 year old Black American it refreshing to see the work you younger brothers are doing to keep the dream alive, you make us proud. Keep the faith and continue doing what you’re doing it does make a difference.

  21. O'Real says:

    Very well done Claude! That was a nice piece. I look forward to more great work and investigative reporting from Black Fives.

  22. Ellen J. Harris says:


    You’ve captured the heart of Pre-1950′s Basketball in America.

    My Dad, Clarence Jenkins, would certainly be honored and humbled to be remembered.

    Ellen Jenkins-Harris

  23. Jeffrey says:

    It was my first time seeing something on national tv & knowing someone who was at the production. I thought that the images & artifacts were great & added so much to the show. It was a little bit this yr. but it opens the door for so much more next year from ESPN. Mark Moore did a great job. It takes a whole lot to step in front of a tv camera,& on ESPN. Outstanding job, Mark.

  24. Keith Ellis says:

    Great work as always, Claude — just as we’ve come to expect from you! Satch Sanders’ comment about “integrating” white players made me wonder whether the young rookies weren’t asking when white non-US-origin players began being “permitted” to play in the NBA. It is true that Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Manu Ginobili and Peja Stojakovich a few years back seemed to be heralding an innovation.

    Certainly these non-US players are not breaking barriers on the heroic scale of Johnny Isaacs and so many others of the Black Fives era, but they do represent the continuing ethnic evolution of professional basketball.

  25. Sam. Haynes says:

    WOW, i’m sorry my response is so late, let me just make it real clear, we can never get enough of this kind of history, or for that matter, any BLACK HISTORY. Absolutely ridiculous how many folks dont know who Mr. ISSACS and the RENS are, including the young players in the NBA. Just finished watching a video THE REAL RUCKER PARK LEGENDS, MR. ISSACS was highlighted laong with his teammates, as well they should. Awesome job, keep up the positiveness!

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