Some Black Fives Era birthdays this week:
Harry “Bucky” Lew
Harry “Bucky” Lew, the first African American professional basketball player, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on January 4, 1884.
Lew played basketball at the Lowell (Ma.) Y.M.C.A. before jumping to the professional New England League in 1902 during its inaugural season.
Lew’s family has been lobbying for years to have him enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
My guess is that this will not happen soon. That’s because his playing career was obscure and the impact of his solitary pioneering contribution doesn’t appear to have been far reaching.
For example, his breaking of the color barrier in the white pro hoops circuit was not widely reported outside of western Massachusetts and apparently didn’t open up many doors for other African Americans.
The idea of having him enshrined seems like it would have to be more of an honorary nod.
The Basketball Hall of Fame officially recognizes Harry Lew as the first African American basketball professional.
This is documented in a 1978 letter to one of Lew’s living descendants in which then executive director Lee Williams wrote, “It will be our position that pending further documented information (if any), we will consider Mr. Lew the first Negro to play professional basketball.”
Is that enough?
The Lew family has been at it for quite some time.
Despite the “official” recognition of the Hall of Fame, and despite the fact that Lew’s ancestry traces back to the American Revolution — Barzillai Lew, a fifer and drummer, played the fife at the Battle of Bunker Hill — I wonder if there are some traces of doubt about his “black authenticity” factoring into the decision making. That’s just my own speculation.Clarence “Fats” Jenkins
Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, who’s basketball career playing with the St. Christopher Club, the New York Incorporators, the Loendi Big Five, the Commonwealth Big Five, the New York Rens, and the Chicago Crusaders, was born in New York City on January 10, 1898.
His career was perhaps the most visible and his impact perhaps the most far reaching of any basketball player — black or white — during the 1920s and 1930s.