This wonderful piece by Margot Adler for NPR Weekend Edition Saturdays includes her blog article as part of the “Code Switch” series on frontiers of race, culture, and ethnicity, as well as the audio interview conducted while she was walking the exhibition at the New-York Historical Society with its Guest Curator, Claude Johnson, and its Chief Curator Stephen Edidin:

Before The NBA Was Integrated, We Had The Black Fives

Here is the audio:

Here is a brief excerpt:

NPR logoClaude Johnson, who collected all these artifacts, says finding them wasn’t all that complicated, since the market for them used to be fairly limited.

“A lot of them come from Ebay,” he says. “It’s not that people don’t know what they have, it’s that there was nobody else for years that would even be interested in this.”

It’s easy to come away thinking black and white teams were entirely separate worlds until 1950. With one one exception, the books on basketball from that time that are on display don’t even mention black players.

But Stephen Edidin, chief curator of the New-York Historical Society, says it’s more complicated. Black teams and white teams did play each other.

“Ten years before the NBA, there were 10 years of world championship basketball,” Edidin says. “And three black teams won three of those years.”