Team: Los Angeles Red Devils
“But scoring is the least of the dusky marvel’s accomplishments. A lightning dribbler and glue-fingered ball handler, his terrific speed makes it impossible for one man to hold him in check.”
— Chicago Defender, 1946
Born: 1919, Cairo, Georgia
Died: 1972, Stamford, Connecticut
Jackie Robinson was much better at basketball than he was at baseball and may have been the finest player in the game, of his time.
During the 1946-47 season, he played for a little known racially integrated professional basketball team called the Los Angeles Red Devils.
Robinson had been exceptional as a forward for U.C.L.A.’s basketball team, leading the Pacific Coast Conference Southern Division (now the Pac-12) in scoring in 1940 and 1941.
He was a tremendous leaper, who had set the collegiate broadjump record.
After completing military duty and signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball organization in 1946, Robinson played for the minor league Montreal Royals.
That fall, he signed with the Red Devils.
“Robinson, who was outstanding in four spots at UCLA, has this year made the transition from baseball to basketball without the slightest hitch; and with more than a dozen pro games under his belt, is destined to be one of the game’s outstanding forwards.”
— Cleveland Call & Post, 1946
The Red Devils were so good that they twice defeated the Sheboygan Redskins of the National Basketball League and the New York Rens.
They split with the N.B.L. champion Chicago Gears featuring the great future Hall of Fame member George Mikan, with only 4 points separating the 2 teams.
Robinson left the Red Devils in January, just after a Branch Rickey visit to L.A., possibly at Rickey’s suggestion. A few months later he made his major league baseball debut.
For more about Jackie Robinson’s professional basketball career please see this related article.