The basketball world mourns the death of Albert W. Price, a pioneer of the Black Fives Era of basketball, who died in Toledo this past weekend at the age of 94. His obituary is posted below, as it appeared in the Toledo Blade newspaper.
Though he was celebrated as the oldest living former Harlem Globetrotter player, which was certainly an honor, Price did something else for the game of basketball that was truly earth-shattering at the time.
In 1941, Price was one of the ten African American players who broke the racial color barrier in professional basketball, when he signed with the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets of the National Basketball League.
It is a historic milestone that is often overlooked.
Eight of those ten pioneering players, including Al Price, were from Toledo. The others were Al’s brother Bernie, Roscoe “Duke” Cumberland, Bill Jones, Casey Jones, Wyatt “Sonny” Boswell, Shannie Barnett, and Tony Peyton.
Five of these men — Bernie Price, Cumberland, Bill Jones, Casey Jones, and Boswell — had previously played for the locally-based Ciralsky Meat Packers all-black basketball team.
Al Price was a product of Toledo’s racially integrated Waite High School, where he lettered in football and basketball. He signed with the Jim Whites along with Bill Jones, Casey Jones, and Barnett, while Bernie, Cumberland, Peyton, and Boswell joined the Chicago Studebakers.
Al and Bernie Price also played for the Harlem Globetrotters, as did Bill Jones, Boswell, and Cumberland — the latter two also eventually would play for the New York Rens.
For more about the history of the National Basketball League, the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets, and the Chicago Studebakers, please see The National Basketball League: a history, 1935-1949 by Murry R. Nelson, or visit the Association of Professional Basketball Researchers site and its forum.
(Originally published November 12, 2011 by Mark Zaborney for the Toledo Blade.)
Al W. Price, Sr., who was feted as the oldest living former Harlem Globetrotter during the team’s Toledo visit in December, died Monday in the Laurels of Toledo nursing and rehabilitation center in South Toledo, where he had lived for about 18 months. He was 94.He had breathing problems and was in declining health recently, his daughter, Debra Price, said.
As a prelude to the Globetrotters’ appearance last year, current team member “Slick” Willie Shaw visited Mr. Price in the nursing center, where the long-ago team member demonstrated that he could still balance a spinning ball on his finger tip and still dribble – essential skills for any Globetrotter. A few days later, a crowd at Huntington Center was on its feet as the team and coach honored Mr. Price at center court as the oldest living former Globetrotter. Fans stopped to shake his hand and get his autograph.
“It was one of the best experiences he had in his life,” his son, Al, Jr., said.
He was rather dignified and usually didn’t show much emotion, his daughter said, “so it really struck me looking back at the pictures at how he was smiling, as was so alert. It was really meaningful to him.”
Mr. Price was on the team for about four years.
“Playing basketball and wanting to start a family didn’t quite co-exist for my mother,” their daughter said.
His older brother, Bernard, was recruited first, part of the push by Al Saperstein, the Globetrotters’ owner, to bring in taller and more athletic players who could compete in an increasingly fast-paced game, author Ben Green told The Blade in 2008.
Bernard, who died Jan. 24, 2002, played from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s and helped the team win its first world title against George Halas’ Chicago Bruins.
Travel by bus between cities big and small could be rough before the Interstate highway system, Mr. Price’s son said. Finding a place to stay the night could be difficult for the all-black team in an era when segregation was common practice, if not law.
“Sometimes they had to change [clothes] on the bus,” his son said. “They did the best they could.”
Still, Mr. Price was proud of being a Globetrotter in the late ’30s and early ’40s and took his family to see the team whenever it came to Toledo. Ms. Price said her father’s descriptions to her of team life focused “always [on] how much he enjoyed the years he played. So many of those guys were lifelong friends of his.”
“My dad and my Uncle Bern were cut from a single mold. They lived with a great deal of style and originality,” she said.
Mr. Price was born Sept. 8, 1917, in Detroit to Mabel and Bern Price. The family moved several times between Chicago and Ohio. Mr. Price attended Waite High School, where he played football. Bernard was considered the better basketball player, “but my dad was the better all-around athlete,” his daughter said.
He held several jobs, including hospital orderly, to help support his family.
He went to night school and became a draftsman. He retired from the city of Toledo, where he was a supervisor on street projects. He also owned apartment buildings and sold real estate for a time.
In retirement, he was a globetrotter of a different sort, visiting Europe, Egypt, and China.
Otherwise, he spent many days at the J. Frank Troy Senior Center in Toledo.
His marriage to Edith Price ended in divorce. She died in 1994.
Surviving are his sons, Al, Jr.; Gregory, and Thomas Price; daughter, Debra Price; five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
A family memorial will be scheduled for next spring.