Happy Birthday To Black Fives Era Superstar Clarence ‘Fats’ Jenkins

On January 9, 2008, in Community, Culture, Descendants, Politics, Race, by Black Fives Foundation

Top of the list among all possible pre-NBA players for enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame, is Black Fives Era superstar Clarence ‘Fats’ Jenkins.

Clarence Jenkins

Clarence “Fats” Jenkins.

Top of the list for Basketball Hall of Fame consideration is Clarence “Fats” Jenkins.

He’s the most deserving of all possible pre-N.B.A. players, regardless of race or ethnicity, for enshrinement in Springfield, primarily because of his accomplishments as the long time captain of the New York Renaissance Big Five.

Jenkins was born in New York City on January 10, 1898.

You can do the research yourself. But, for illustration, here’s just one accolade about Jenkins from the vintage white press.

It’s what the Hammond Times (Indiana) newspaper had to say about “Fats” prior to a Rens game in the late 1930s:

This flashy colored youth is one of the heroes on the famous Renaissance basketball five that will clash with the Indianapolis Kautskys here at the State gym on Feb. 16. “Fat” is captain of the team and is regarded by the colored race as their Babe Ruth. He is a great basketball 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. Fat, who doesn’t drink, smoke or chew, stands only 5 feet, 7 inches tall, yet he weights 175 pounds. “Doc” Bryant, the Renaissance trainer, says Jenkins is one of the best conditioned men he has ever seen.

Obviously, one statement alone doesn’t send someone to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Clarence Jenkins

“… regarded by the colored race as their Babe Ruth.”

But consider that this is from Indiana, considered “God’s basketball country” by many, and where some small high school gyms seat 10,000 or more.

And since they’re mentioned, who are those other guys, Holman, Cooney, and Banks?

Holman needs no introduction. He starred at New York University and with the Original Celtics, and later coached at City College of New York where in 1950 his team won the National Invitational Tournament and the N.C.A.A. Championship (it’s never been done since). He’s in.

Cooney, at 5 feet, 8 inches and 140 lbs., was a local legend of the era who played for the Brooklyn Arcadians and led them to the 1926 American Basketball League finals, was subsequently head coach at St. Francis College of Brooklyn from ’32 to ’41 with never a losing season, and was enshrined in the inaugural class of the St. Francis Athletics Hall of Fame in 1968. Springfield? He’s not in.

Banks, also from Brooklyn, played for the Brooklyn Visitations, Philadelphia S.P.H.A.s, and Original Celtics alongside stars like Hall of Fame members Joe Lapchick, “Dutch” Dehnert, Johnny Beckman, and Bobby McDermott. Banks isn’t in.

Being mentioned in the same breath with those guys, by a white Indiana paper in the late 1920s, well, that’s exceptional. Yet it’s just one of many similar accounts of Jenkins.

What will it take to get him into the Basketball Hall of Fame?

New York Rens

The New York Rens circa 1928, with Jenkins at far left.

Jenkins was the Rens’ team captain from 1925 through 1940. This was a period during which the Rens dominated all of basketball, not just black teams.

Their toughest opponent and biggest rival through the mid-1930s was the New York Original Celtics. Numerous deserving Celtics are in the Hall.

The “Rens” routinely beat the Celtics. Yet only 2 players from the Rens (Charles “Tarzan” Cooper and William “Pop” Gates) are enshrined, and only one of them (Gates) is there as a player while Cooper is inexplicably listed only as a contributor.

During the 1930s, Jenkins, Holman, and Beckman were reported to be the highest paid players in basketball. On the court, Jenkins, a lefty, was called “genial but tricky.” He was quick, with tremendous court sense and leaping ability. He was a deadly outside shooter.

Clarence Jenkins shakes hands

Jenkins shakes hands with opposing captain of a team from Whiting, Illinois in 1939.

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.

(Jenkins was also exceptional in baseball, as a centerfielder with a .334 lifetime batting average, and has been under consideration for enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.)

Jenkins 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.”

He had 2 basketball-playing brothers — James and Harold “Legs” Jenkins — that also played for the St. C.’s.

Jenkins 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.

Off the court, Jenkins was a mentor for kids and loved to entertain, often playing the piano and singing. His charming wife, Agnes, frequently invited Rens teammates to their home after games or to surprise birthday parties she would stage for “Fats.”

Jenkins was successful in business after he retired from basketball, running a liquor store (which he sold to Roy Campanella) and then the old Red Circle Cleaners in the Bronx, and later opening a small hotel in Philadelphia. He died in Philly in 1968.

But he lives.

Let’s lobby for Clarence “Fats” Jenkins to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

23 Responses to Happy Birthday To Black Fives Era Superstar Clarence ‘Fats’ Jenkins

  1. Keith Ellis says:

    Claude wrote:
    “Being mentioned in the same breath with those guys, by a white Indiana paper in the late 1920s, well, that’s exceptional……”

    Before Fats, who certainly merits inclusion in the HoF, and before the Rens ever played in Indianapolis, the lane there was cleared by a star on an integrated Hoosier Big Five who shrugged off KKK death threats and became the first black cager to lead a mixed team to a title in a major (800-club) tournament. Fat and the Rens recognized the tall Hoosier’s talent, enticing him w/ offers to quit school and go pro. Instead, he stayed in school for four years before forming his own integrated barnstorming club and then playing for the Rens in the MidWest. Eventually, Fats Jenkins left the Rens and played for the Indianan’s fabled all-black Chicago-based team, the Crusaders.

    It would be interesting to know which Indy paper extolled Jenkins w/out having seen him play first. The Indianapolis Star & News both named David DeJernett All-State after each of his three runs through the tournament.

  2. He and Puggy Bell and long overdue for enshrinement in Springfield. Fortunately for D.C. natives, Washington is launching its own HOF via a website scheduled to debut on Dr. King’s birthday.

  3. Claude says:

    Hey Keith, thanks.

    Can you just clarify: do you believe Dave DeJernett was the first black player on a mixed high school state championship team? That would be the 1930 Indiana State HS Championship, right?

    He then attended University of Indianapolis, right? Now he’s in the Indiana State Basketball Hall of Fame as well as the University of Indianapolis Athletics Hall of Fame.

    Good call on him, and he definitely deserves those honors.

    Bijan, I would put Jenkins ahead of Puggy but I agree with you.

    PS – Please avoid using the ampersand symbol in place of the word “and” on blogs because it can screw up the invisible HTML that uses that same symbol. Thanks.

  4. Keith Ellis says:

    Claude, thank you for asking. Dave DeJernett was the first black cager to *star* on a integrated championship team in a serious tournament. Neither the pros nor colleges developed serious playoffs until much later. Some states e.g. Illinois let racism get in the way of holding tournaments w/ mixed or all-black teams (altho a few players like Lynch Conway “passed” in the segregated events). Other states like NY never got around to putting on open statewide tourneys. For this reason cities such as Chicago and NYC held their own smaller tournaments and considered mere City titles major accomplishments (which they are, for a city).

    DeJernett was paid homage for his accomplishment by newspapers from New York to Nevada. The news even hit China in May 1930 — a couple months before the Marion lynchings. In the context of those lynchings and death threats DeJernett led a revolution. He also led his club to the first win over the two-time Texas winners of Chicago’s lily-white “national” high-school tourney when they toured Indiana, en route to many more defeats in Hoosierland before heading back South. His was an example the Rens appreciated when they began touring the MidWest.

  5. Claude says:

    Keith, thanks. I guess we could have a debate about how you throw around that word “serious.”

  6. Keith Ellis says:

    Maybe Serious is in the eye of the beholder, but let’s ask ourselves: Does it matter whether a ballplayer is 17 or 37 years old, when he’s making nationwide news for unprecedented achievement? Is his “level” lower than a pro’s who didn’t play in a tournament w/ direct, champ-after-champ traceable lineage running from 1911 thru today? A tourney composed of 800 teams — eight thousand players — competing in venues commonly crammed w/ 5000 to 15,000 paying customers?

    We agree Fats’ fame merits the Hall and should concur that famous Twenties black basketball in Indiana wasn’t limited to all-pro or even all-black squads, although both Dave and Jack Mann later played for the Rens, Chicago Crusaders/SB5, & GlobeTrotters after college. History and the HoF have room to include barrier-breakers from both sides of the mountain.

  7. Claude says:

    Keith, thanks! I don’t think “serious” has anything to do with age as you imply. Neither does number of teams. I agree that the Indiana State HS Championships are serious! But I disagree with you if you’re implying that no one else’s tournament was serious, or as serious.

    Hey didn’t Jack Mann also play for the Art Imigs of Wisconsin, as their center?

  8. Keith Ellis says:

    Jack Mann sure did play for the otherwise all-white Imigs, nowadays remembered by NBA fans as the Sheboygan Redskins. Jack played for them in 1937, the same year he also suited up for the Palmer House Indians & NY Rens.

    Mann wasn’t the first black cager to play for a future NBA team, tho — Hank Williams in 1935/36 starred at Center for the Buffalo Bisons, who are known today as the Atlanta Hawks.

  9. Claude says:

    Thanks for sharing that.

  10. Claude says:

    PS – BTW, I agree with Dav Zirin’s opinion, which applies equally well to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

  11. Keith Ellis says:

    Thanks, Claude. I second Zirin’s emotion. Speaking of severed ears, the word “Hoosier” derives from the aftermath of an Indiana barroom brawl that left one lying in the dust on the floor. Who’s ear?

  12. Claude says:

    Musta been that famous Indiana basketballer Vincent Van Gogh, who starred in the 1950s basketball movie “Gogh Man Gogh!” LOL

  13. edd says:

    …Want to witness a shot of history that encompasses a total Black sports history? Check out: http://www.ehbcsports.com

  14. [...] isn’t even the only Rens player who ought to be enshrined What about “Fats” Jenkins? “Puggy” Bell? Sonny [...]

  15. [...] players earned considerably more; for example, Clarence “Fats” Jenkins reportedly earned $10,000 per [...]

  16. [...] been knowing about the snubs!  I know they saw this and this and this. But my own comments are just the tip of a mountainous iceberg of discontent.  You know [...]

  17. bill sohmer says:

    greatest players all time from 1935-1954, guards bobby mcdermott,sonny boswell,al cervi,pop gates,forwards-nat hickey,bob calihan,dolph schayes,jim pollard.centers leroy edwards,george mikan,tarsan cooper,goose tatum.3 reseves.buddy jeanette,duke cumberland,bob davies

  18. bill sohmer says:

    baa merger with nbl was highway robbery-the nbl was solid the baa wasnt drawing at all-in fact many free tickets giving out.In 1946 rochester would have destroyed the phila warrios and 1947 the gears would have a field with the bullets-cervi said it best the baa was high school at best.the bullets played two games against the gears and they split the gears what the nba dont tell you is mikan and mcdermott were,nt in either game,together they avg 29pts a game.why did zollner go to the baa when the lakers told him not to go-but changed later when harrison and zollner broke the gears up not letting them return as a team because harrison could,nt beat the gears- it was a tax fraud

  19. [...] written before about his very strong case for enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame (and others, [...]

  20. bill sohmer says:

    the trouble with the hall was secret balloting,everyone wanted to get there own players in,les harrison could getanyone in so could holman and auerbach,I no things that happened that people would,nt believe.Foreigners go in now over people who made this a game great,great coaches dont belong.just a few names that should be in,leroy edwards,nat hickey,sonny boswell,frank selvy,remember the nbl didnt need the baa,if they didnt get the lakers,ft wayne, the league would have folded.My nexy mail Ill give you a little more info on the corrupt nba.and how the merger really took place

  21. [...] The Rens’ lineup for the 1939 tournament included future Basketball Hall of Fame members William “Pop” Gates and Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, as well as William “Wee Willie” Smith, Clarence “Puggy” Bell, Eyre Saitch, Zach Clayton, John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs, and Clarence “Fats” Jenkins. [...]

  22. bill sohmer says:

    davy banks was a fine player and possible hallof fame inductee.Comparing him to bobby mcdermott is a reach at best. McDermott carried the celtics for three to 4 years leading them in scoring each year and leading them to 65 straight wins one contest scoring 56 pte highest in history at that time.leroy edwards is way past due and also ed sadowski,nat hickey,what happened in the hall of fame early on it was so political,it never got it right and now the attidude is forget about it.they should have early on start from the 20,s then the thirtys and so on and not put college inductees with pros that screwed up big time.jenkins is definitely deserving,as is willie smith some considered better than tarzan.I also dont believe coaches getting in.

  23. bill sohmer says:

    latest news when gears broke up due to zollner and harrison-because they wiped out the royals and mcdermott left ft wayne after being fired they won world tournament that year.so when that pbloa folded,they set it up this- mikan walked into the office first mac waiting -he was sent to the lakers on a lie that he took a ballot out of a hat and drew minny-mikan comes out tells mac he is going to minny they shake hands and he wish,s mikan the best.Mac goes in and draws sheyboygan before doing so hesays any team but them.He draws them leaves the office and downstairs he knew he should have made them empty the hat to late.Now we know that the hat had only sheyboygan in it.The rest of the gears went other teams on sales.Zollner and harrison had there wish break them up.

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