Teams: St. Christopher Club, New York Incorporators,
“The colored race looks upon him as their Babe Ruth. He is a great baseball player as well as the colored race’s standout cager. Like such men as Nat Holman, Rody Cooney and Davy Banks, Jenkins gets away from a standing start at bullet-like speed.”
— The Hammond (Indiana) Times, 1938
Loendi Big Five, Commonwealth Sporting Club,
New York Rens
Weight: 165 lbs.
Born: 1898, New York City, N.Y.
Died: 1968, Philadelphia, Pa.
The long time captain of the New York Renaissance Big Five is the most deserving candidate for individual enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame among all pre-N.B.A. players, regardless of race or ethnicity.
He was inducted as part of the collective enshrinement of the entire 1933 Rens team, and while this is a tremendous honor, it is not the same as being recognized for individual accomplishment.
Jenkins, a member of the original Renaissance team formed in 1923, was captain of the Rens from 1925 through 1940. This was a period during which the team dominated all of basketball, not just black basketball teams.
On the court, Jenkins, a lefty, was called “genial but tricky.” He was not only fast but also quick. In addition, his tremendous court sense and leaping ability combined with his deadly shooting accuracy made him one of the most dangerous players in basketball.
Jenkins often jumped center while being the smallest man on the team. This was crucial since there was a center jump after each field goal in the early days.
He was discovered while playing with the junior St. Christopher Club team as a teenager. When he made the “big” St. C. team, Jenkins played opposite Paul Robeson at the other forward spot. “I was fast for a big six footer,” Robeson recalled of his St. C. playing days, “and played near the edge of the court while little Fats Jenkins dribbled them silly.”
Jenkins had two basketball-playing brothers — James and Harold “Legs” Jenkins — that also played for the St. C.’s. He also played for the Incorporators, the Loendi Big Five and the Commonwealth Big Five before team owner Bob Douglas signed him to join the very first New York Rens lineup in 1923.
Off the court, Jenkins was a mentor for kids and loved to entertain, often playing the piano and singing. He was also successful in business after retiring from the game, running a liquor store and a dry cleaner, and later opening a small hotel in Philadelphia.
Please see this related article for more on Clarence “Fats” Jenkins.