This is our ranking of who we have determined are the most deserving Black Fives Era players and contributors that are not yet enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
- Clarence “Fats” Jenkins
The team captain of the New York Rens for 25 years, Jenkins was unstoppable and played pro basketball spanning four decades (’10s, ’20s, ’30s, ’40s) culminating with the Rens title victory in the 1939 World Pro Basketball Championship, his final season with that team.
- Cumberland Posey, Jr. ELECTED!
Among sportswriters and his contemporaries, Posey was unanimously considered the best African American basketball player from 1910 to 1925, during which time he won five Colored Basketball World Championship titles including four straight with his Loendi Big Five team of Pittsburgh. Posey is enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as a Contributor.
- Ora Mae Washington
The biggest star of the best black female basketball team of all time, the Tribune Girls of Philadelphia, which won 11 straight Colored Basketball World’s Championships in the 1930s and ’40s.
- Hudson Oliver
Four time winner of the Colored Basketball World Championship with three different teams, the Smart Set Athletic Club, the Washington 12 Streeters, and Howard University, universally considered the best black basketball player prior to the early 1910s.
- John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs ELECTED! (More)
John Isaacs was a star player and emotional leader of the New York Rens and Washington Bears, which won the 1939 and 1943 World Pro Basketball Tournaments, respectively. Isaacs has been a Naismith Hall of Fame Finalist twice, prior to the creation of its special Early African American Pioneers Committee. He was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
- William “Wee Willie” Smith
Cleveland, Ohio native “Wee Willie” Smith played center with the New York Renaissance from 1932 through 1943. As a 6′-5″ player he was powerful, agile, and unstoppable. After his arrival, the “Rens” became truly invincible, winning 88 straight games in 86 days during Smith’s rookie season with the team. He was the key pivot man in helping the Rens with the inaugural 1939 World Championship of Professional Basketball, and was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.
- Al “Runt” Pullins
A 5′-8″ native of New Orleans who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, Al “Runt” Pullins honed his exceptional speed, ball handling, and shooting skills at the Wabash YMCA before leading Wendell Phillips High School to win Chicago’s lightweight city basketball championship title in 1928. Pullins then joined up with Abe Saperstein in 1929 to organize the original Harlem Globetrotters. Saperstein needed a star player and an automobile in order to succeed and get bookings; Pullins provided both. He was the team’s most sensational talent and they drove to games in his Ford. Pullins was so essential in the birth and stabilization of the early ‘Trotters that Saperstein put him at the very top of his own 1950 list of all-time greatest Globetrotters, even ahead of current Basketball Hall of Fame members Reece “Goose” Tatum and Marques Haynes. (Photo: Christopher McNeal)
- Zachariah “Zack” Clayton
Zachariah “Zack” Clayton, one of the all-time greatest basketball players of the Black Fives Era, played guard for the New York “Rens” and Washington Bears from 1936 to 1946, winning two World Championship of Professional Basketball titles. Considered one of the ten most talented early African American athletes ever developed in Philadelphia — alongside Wilt Chamberlain, “Tarzan” Cooper, and Roy Campanella — Clayton was enshrined in the Philadelphia Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989.
- Clarence “Puggy” Bell
In his first of nine seasons with the New York Renaissance, Bell was named as the Most Valuable Player of the inaugural World Championship of Professional Basketball Tournament, won by the “Rens” in 1939. He could shoot with either hand, and was the anchor for the Renaissance and the team’s captain after “Fats” Jenkins retired. Bell also won a World Championship title with the Washington Bears in 1943. He was inducted into the Bob Douglas Hall of Fame in 1984, joining former Rens teammates Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, William “Pop” Gates, John Isaacs, and Clarence “Fats” Jenkins. Bell was also enshrined in the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.
- Edwin B. Henderson ELECTED! (More)
Introduced basketball to African Americans on a wide scale organized basis, and set up a structure in which the game could spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic, including the first black athletic conference, the Inter-scholastic Athletic Association.
- Will Anthony Madden
Four-time winner of the Colored Basketball World’s Championship with two different teams (St. Christopher, Incorporators), introduced the coaching of “scientific basketball,” inter-city rivalries, promotional in-arena giveaways of novelty items, ads in major national publications, promotion through widespread editorial coverage, annual All-American list for top black players, annual black All-Star team, and what was in 1917 the longest road trip in history–between New York City and Chicago. (Photo: David Skinner)
- Cumberland Posey, Jr.
Architect of black basketball in Pittsburgh, created and led four-time champion Loendi Big Five, introduced professionalism, barnstorming, the black-white rivalry model, naming rights, and sponsorship to black basketball.
A list like this is bound to cause debate, and we hope it does!