Today is the birth date of John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs. The former professional basketball great, who was born in 1915 and passed away in 2009, would have been 99 years old.

“Mr. I” was truly special. During his basketball career with the New York Renaissance, Dayton Rens, Long Island Grumman Hellcats Five, Washington Bears, Hazleton Mountaineers, Utica Olympics, New York Old-Timers, and other teams, he won the World Championship of Professional Basketball twice.

He also won the New York City High School Basketball Championship with Benjamin Franklin H.S., after which he headed straight to the pros, signing with New York Rens owner Robert “Bob” Douglas. “Isaacs had the most natural ability of any man ever to play for me,” Douglas later said.

Legendary professional basketball player John Isaacs poses in front of the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem, representing his former team with New York Renaissance Big Five retro merchandise, circa 2006.

“John Isaacs, Immortal.” Legendary professional basketball player John Isaacs poses in front of the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem, representing his former team with New York Renaissance Big Five retro merchandise, circa 2006. (The Black Fives Foundation)

For many, especially the hundreds and perhaps thousands of youngsters who Isaacs influenced and inspired through his work at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx, he may have had a bigger impact off the court. Isaacs was there for more than 50 years and was once described as “a doctor for the soul” as the club’s longest tenured volunteer.

John Isaacs photo shoot, Harlem

A behind-the-scenes perspective of the photo shoot that yielded the “John Isaacs, Immortal” photograph. Isaacs and the photography crew work on lighting and angles while a small crowd of fans–kids coming from school, knowledgeable passersby, and neighbors–watches the action with fascination and respect. (The Black Fives Foundation)

“I refer to him as my colleague, my mentor and my friend,” said panelist Susan Rayl, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at the State University of New York at Cortland, during an interview with the Fall-Church News-Press at a panel discussion remembering the Black Fives Era pioneer. Rayl was the first scholar to dig extensively into the history of the New York Renaissance, with her thorough dissertation about the team published in 1996, the year the National Basketball Association celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Karen Isaacs with a photo of her father John Isaacs

Karen Isaacs stands near a full length photographic image of her father John Isaacs, outside the Civil Rights Gallery of the New-York Historical Society, where “The Black Fives,” a museum exhibition on the history of the period, which was on display there from March to July 2014.

All of us here at the Black Fives Foundation were proud and honored to have had a chance to know John Isaacs, a man who inspires our mission and our efforts to this very day. Happy Birthday!

For much more on John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs, please see his profile as well as numerous other articles on this website about his life and career.