R.I.P. George Crowe, The Last Of The Harlem Rens

On January 19, 2011, in Community, Culture, Race, Relationships, by Claude Johnson

George Crowe had been the last living member of the New York Renaissance (a.k.a. “Rens”) professional all-black basketball team. He was 89 years old.

George Crowe

George Crowe.

Peacefully and poetically — at 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time on the eve of the full moon that began today — the life of our friend the former professional basketball and baseball star George D. Crowe, came to an end.

Crowe had been the last living member of the New York Renaissance (a.k.a. “Rens”) professional all-black basketball team, for which he played during the late 1940s. He was 89 years old.

His daughter and a close friend were nearby. Crowe had been under hospice care at a nursing home in Sacramento, California.

His body simply failed him, I am told, after continual deterioration following a series of strokes over the last several years.

The last and only time I had the honor of meeting him in person, in late 2009, Crowe could still get around on his own. We had a memorable discussion that connected our ongoing telephone conversations before and after.

Claude Johnson with George Crowe

Sitting with George Crowe in 2009, during my visit with him at his nursing home in Sacramento, California.

But he had been bedridden since midway through last year, and was no longer keen about taking too many calls.

Yet he remained full of life.

According to his friend, when it became known last December that nothing else could be done for him as far as medications and treatments, Crowe’s “no alcohol” ban was unanimously lifted. It was Christmas Eve.

The pair immediately proceeded to have a taste-testing of the newly launched top-of-the-line Crown Royal Black blended Canadian whiskey while watching a DVD of a performance by Ella Fitzgerald, Crowe’s favorite vocalist.

One is tempted to compare Crowe and his basketball skills with the marketing for the new whiskey — “extra bold in flavor, darker in color and known for legendary smoothness.” He was certainly that, and also “best in class.”

But Crowe was much more.

He had a rich life that was filled with stories and experiences so singular, remarkable, pioneering, and inspirational that they were breathtaking in their impact.

Yet, Crowe was also a man of wisdom and serenity. He was always the right person at the right place at the right time.

I’ve written much about him on this blog, and there is more to come from me and from others because Crowe was there at so many pivotal moments in the annals of basketball as well as baseball.  It’s fun and easy to write about him because his life was like a panorama of sports history.

George D. Crowe, an exceptionally talented athlete and a one-of-a-kind soul, will be dearly missed by the many friends, admirers, and loved ones he leaves behind.

14 Responses to R.I.P. George Crowe, The Last Of The Harlem Rens

  1. joe dorinson says:

    Dear Claude: I was deeply touched by your elegaic thoughts of basketball-baseball star, George Crowe. Like many African-American athletes from an earlier era–Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, and Bo Jackson spring to mind–Crowe was extremely versatile. I recall his majestic swings that sent missiles into outerspace and his nimble scoops of errant throws to first base, which he patrolled with amazing agility for such a big man. I never saw him shoot hoops but as you observe, his death, as the last of the great Harlem Renaissance quintet marks the end of an era. He will be missed and thanks to your eloquent eulogy–remembered. Thanks, Joe Dorinson

  2. Casey says:

    Claude –

    Thank you for passing on your memories of your time with Mr. Crowe. I get a real sense for who he was and the importance of his life. Through your efforts at Black Fives, you have done an amazing job of making sure Mr. Crowe and others have been recognized for their contributions to the game – some while they can experience the recognition while a part of this world.

  3. mcbias says:

    It’s a beautiful tribute, Claude, and I thank you so much for writing it. You have a way with words that I always enjoy.

  4. You could make a case that George Crowe was the best 2-sport athlete ever. He was Indiana’s first Mr. Basketball. He did not play Major League Baseball until he was 31 but still put up numbers that would earn him tens of millions today. For a time he held the record for pinch-hit homers. I saw him play with the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals at a time when the second wave of black players was making inroads into the game and remember what a smooth and skilled athlete he was.


    Thank you for reporting what we could not in this time of mourning.

    Adrienne, Pam and I want to thank you for keeping George’s history and life alive for all of us to learn from and admire.

    The good news is the he is at peace and free of pain. The bad news we are sad and miss him dearly.

    To all his fans and admirers THANK YOU. To all who knew him please share your stories here so we can also remember together.

    In the end he was one of the best things that ever happened to me and many of us…we will never forget the way he shared his values. One of them was simple things. Like Crown Royal and great jazz. Thelonious Monk was his top pick and he was dead silent as we sipped Crown Royal and watched his dvd at Christmas…he would clap after each set …I just learned that Thelonious lived near the Crowe family home on Long Island.

    Ella was his favorite and her special edition U S postage memorial stamp and photo hung in his room. But he also really admired Beyonce in her World Tour DVD that we watched this past month as well…he liked women with strength and power. Adrienne was actually number one.

    His wish is to be cremated with his ashes scattered at his favorite home at the gun club where he lived for many years near Long Eddy, New York. His fellow club members have offered to have a special memorial for him later this year at the club on opening day of the season in November.

    His spirit is everywhere but his remains will live for eternity on the grounds of his favorite place. Adrienne and I plan to be there to help all celebrate his life with a toast of Crown Royal…if Diageo is listening they should provide the tasting of the full line of Crown Royal products. Cask 16 won the taste test for him last year but his last sip was Crown Royal Black.

    He and his family do not request memorials or flowers. Post your memories here for all to share. If you still wish to make a donation in his memory then please make it to Mercy Foundation in his name. Mercy Foundation is part of Catholic Healthcare West based in San Francisco…you can see their sign at many Giants games. Adrienne is past chair of their board of directors.

    To the end the one phone number he could remember was Willie Mays’ who he considered a TRUE friend.

    George was an unlikely friend of an Irish Iowa farm boy…but the one thing we had in common was our farming birth place…George grew up on the family farm where his dad was a share cropper in Johnson County, Indiana. The Crowe family lived there until his dad died when he was 13. Then his mother TomAnn moved the family of 8 boys and 2 girls to town in Whiteland. The rest is history.

    Claude thanks again for making this site his lasting memorial. George loved to have me share with him the postings from fans…it will be hard to share these but WE will all remember him with all your words and feelings…thank you ALL.

  6. Arif Khatib says:

    Claude, what a sad time for us historians. We knew the last of the Rens’ era was going to end eventually, but we never wanted it to. I’m pleased I had the opportunity to know a couple of them and it was my pleasure to promote this incredible team and to induct at least one into our Hall of Fame. The Rens will never be duplicated.

  7. Cassandra says:

    What a well written and expressed depiction of a great athlete and person, George Crowe. Thank you for continuously giving us the opportunity to remember and appreciate those who have meaningfully contributed to our greater good.

  8. A beautiful send off, Claude. Crowe died knowing you’re keeping his legacy alive.

  9. bill tosheff says:

    Claude…..Another legend gone…sad. I spoke to George several months ago and knew he was at peace. We talked about his brother Ray, some. Kareem Jabbar’s, documentary has him interviewed live coming out soon, I guess. Please call me…need to talk to you…bill

  10. Caprice Corbett says:

    I love what you wrote and thank you for telling me about him. I see the kindness in his eyes and I wish more of our players played for the love of the true love of the game. You shook hands with greatness.

  11. Keith Ellis says:

    Thanks for remembering, Claude. Last night I happened to visit George Crowe’s alma mater where his plaque of honor is on display. In line with pioneering giants like Dave DeJernett, Ray Crowe, and Bailey Robertson who starred on integrated Indiana Central teams, Big George stood tall. On the eve of Jackie Robinson’s debut as a ’47 Brooklyn Dodger Crowe wowed a NYC crowd, including boxing champ Joe Louis, with a game-high 19 points as the Rens played Madison Square Garden for the first time in decades. His career had high point after high point yet he remained a humble man.

  12. Susan says:

    I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Crowe, but want to express my condolences to his family and close friends. As a researcher and writer about the New York Renaissance basketball team, I knew about the tremendous talent of George Crowe and the contributions he made to black basketball and the Negro Leagues, via the Harlem Black Yankees prior to making his mark in the Major Leagues. His contribution was great, breaking many barriers in the process, and will be remembered and passed on to future generations.

    Many thanks Claude for writing about Mr. Crowe and in such a beautiful way…and for providing this forum for people to express their thoughts and memories. May he rest in peace knowing the impact he had in professional sport and on so many lives.

  13. carl campbell says:

    claude thanks for letting me know about george crowe–he was real giant now all the rens are gone i wonder if we will see any thing like them again-peace..

  14. Jay LaFountaine says:

    Excellent writing and research on an excellent person. With the passing of pioneers, we as the next generation have to be the storytellers. Their legacies will live on, and your site deserves much credit for that.


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