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.
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?
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.
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.