R.I.P. John ‘Boy Wonder’ Isaacs, 1915-2009

On January 26, 2009, in Culture, Family, History, Motivation, Relationships, by Black Fives Foundation

It’s with deep sorrow that I report the passing of John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs. John passed away this morning at the Albert Einstein Hospital in the Bronx, New York. He had suffered a stroke last week, from which he never arose. He was 93 years old.

It’s with deep sorrow that I report the passing of former star basketball player and community leader John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs. John passed away this morning at the Albert Einstein Hospital in the Bronx, New York. He had suffered a major stroke last week, from which he never arose. He was 93 years old.

John Isaacs

John Isaacs, 1915-2009. Here, standing in front of his beloved
Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem.

John had a long, strong, full life.  He saw a lot of things, and got to experience, on some level, what it was like to have a black President of the United States — a breakthrough that his pioneering efforts helped make possible. John’s was a historic life, and as a person he was a national treasure.

But, as his daughter said to me a few days ago, it was time for us to let go so that he could let go too.

The circle of life continues.

I’m sure that a part of John will continue to live in all of us who remember him well.

John’s uncontainable energy — which seemed eternal even before today — is now free to soar wherever it may.

To help honor John, please feel free to leave a comment, share a memory, retell a story, offer a word of inspiration, or leave a parting thought.

John Isaacs

My last photo with John Isaacs in October 2008, the way I'll remember him.
May he rest in peace.

More information about the Memorial Service for John, and other details, will be available soon.

UPDATE (1/28, 2009):

Wake and Viewing Ceremony
Date: Friday, January 30, 2009
Time: 3:00pm – 7:00pm
Location: Granby’s Funeral Home (map)
Phone: 718-519-6047
Street: 4020 White Plains Road (@ 228th Street)
City: Bronx, NY

Funeral Service
Date: Saturday, January 31, 2009
Time: 9:30am – 11:00am
Location: Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church (map)
Phone: 212-690-1834
Street: 58 West 135th Street (off Lenox Avenue)
City: New York, NY (Harlem)

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, a contribution be made to the John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs Scholarship Fund in support of education and mentoring for children and young adults:

John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs Scholarship Fund
c/o Karen Isaacs
1011 Sheridan Avenue
No. B16
Bronx, New York 10456

Thank you for your generous contribution.

76 Responses to R.I.P. John ‘Boy Wonder’ Isaacs, 1915-2009

  1. charles (jap) robinson says:

    my pleasure of meeting mr. Isaaccs, came back in the 60′s at the boys club on freeman st. and southern blvd. someone I could always look up to and learn from. my condolences to his family.

  2. Susan Rayl says:

    I’ve thought for two days now about something brief to say about a man who I met nearly 22 years ago and whose existence changed my career and my life, without tears flowing every time. It was because of John that my dissertation topic at Penn State changed from “Women’s involvement in the Turner Movement” to the “History of the New York Renaissance Professional Black Basketball Team.” I figured I’d do a little research on this Rens team and write a 30 page independent study paper. Instead, a whole new world opened up for me, a world of history that I had never been taught in school. I became both outraged and excited going through the Amsterdam News and other “black” newspapers on microfilm issue by issue, but determined that my students would never endure the ignorance that I had been fed. Throughout the years I stayed in close contact with “the man” a.k.a. “Missster Issacs” (my nickname’s for John) and enjoyed meeting up with him at the Schomburg Library a few times each year to grab a bite to eat or just talk. What a priviledge it has been to learn about and attend the John Hunter Camp Fund Luncheon, to share a Chris Botti Jazz concert at the Blue Note, and to reintroduce him to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire at a short-lived musical “Hot Feet” a few years back. Mostly, I always feel honored to be in his presence, to be walking and talking with a living history book and to feel accepted as a part of his world. I’ll forever be grateful and indebted to John Isaacs. I’ll miss him more than I can express. I just know he’s in Renaissance heaven telling his endless stories to his roomie – Pop Gates, Bob Douglas and the other Rens and Bears – and they are rolling their eyes as he makes another lightning fast pass down the court. Take care buddy – I love you!

  3. Leon A. Waddell says:

    Although I did not personally meet Mr. Isaacs…I can deeply say that he and the rest of the Harlem Rens have had an impact on my life. My prayers go out to his family! He may not be with us anymore but he has left a lot of spirit for us that live to embrace!!! R.I.P. Good Friend!

  4. Lydell T. Yancey says:

    I think a lot of young black men need to read about a ICON as John was, because when I frist meet this man at a basketball game of The Legends that host on Sundays in Harlems Boy’s and Girls Choir of Harlem. I was just blown away of his wisdom and knowledge of the game of basketball. You just don’t know how much this man is going to be missed.

  5. Darryl T. Downing says:

    Mr. Isaacs,
    That’s what I called him. Anything else just didn’t sound right to me!!!
    Mr. Isaacs was a walking, talking encyclopedia. Sports was his springboard. Life was his Forte. Thusly my life was enriched. He called me Massure Lautreque Excuse the spelling). I don’t know what it meant but anything he called me was fine! Mr. Isaacs’ passing is like losing a great library…..Gee, So many books I didn’t read!!! However I’m ever so greatful for the ones I did!!!

  6. Fatimah Gladden says:

    Peace & Love Pop Isaacs,

    I had the pleasure of being Mr. I’s, daughter-in-law from 1981 until 1994 and it was my blessing to have shared some wonderful moments with him and the rest of the Isaacs family. He always said to me it’s okay to be “a legend in my own mind”. He will always be my personal legend and we will all miss him and the joy he brought to our lives. R.I.P. Dad
    Fatimah Gladden

  7. Carlito Roc says:

    That’s very sad news. I had the opportunity to hear him speak with Kareem Abdul Jabbar at Rucker Park a few years ago. He was so full of life, energy and optimism, that he inspired me to be better at what I do.

    Rip Mr. Isaacs.

  8. Veronica (Roni) Jenkins Sermons says:

    Life, what a gift and I was blessed with the gift of John’s presence.

    At a very young age my four sisters and 5 cousins grew up knowing John Isaac and believing that he was our grandfather. We called him Grandfather John. Our beloved grandmother, Viola Natalie Emptage, aka Mimi and John were our grandparents that’s what we knew. Many summers at the beach and visits with our grandparents at Lenox Terrace. Later, much later, I learned he was a man who had a loving relationshiops with Mimi.

    A tall handsome, witty, athletic, warm and wonderful man with a sense of humor and a legendary ball player who often played ball with one of my sisters.

    Grandfather John gave each of us many thing to ponder and has left us with fond memories. To the other family members, we send our sincere sympthy, love and blessings. I speak for my sisters and cousins when I say, we’ll miss you Grandfather John, and we love you.

    The Washingtons and the Jenkins Family

  9. Sindi Canady (Washington) says:

    I just wanted to mention a word to back up my cousin Roni. Since I am the youngest of the Washington, Jenkins Crew, I have only known Grandfather John as Grandfather John. I will continue to do that. I will always have fond memories of him and spending time with him and Mimi. We will miss you Grandfather John.

  10. Dan and Ted says:

    Our deepest sympathies go out to the Isaacs’ family. What a wonderful man! About three years ago my son, Dan, became interested in the Rens from some things said to him by his grandfather. He decided to develop the topic and write an original essay for the NYC NAACP essay contest, but before he actually wrote it he found Mr. Isaacs at the Madison Square Garden Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx. We went down and spent some time with Mr. Isaacs, who we found not only to be a fountain of history and knowledge, but the most gracious and kind person imaginable. The truth is he kept making all these interesting points about basketball and life while repeatedly quoting Shakespeare to underline his meaning. To say he was generous with his time and experiences would be an understatement. My son and I will treasure that meeting and the poster he graciously signed for us forever. By the way,Dan’s essay on the Rens won first place in the NYC NAACP original essay competition and represented NYC in the National contest. Never could have done it without you Mr. Isaacs! But I think you all ready knew that. Thank you.



  12. Lawrence Hamilton says:

    I have heard of many legends in my lifetime, but I am truly honored to have known one. One who made me and many others feel a sense of pride and togetherness. I met Mr. Isaacs at the Pelham Fritz Basketball League where he and many other ballplayers would meet up on Sundays in Harlem. We would watch the games and shoot the breeze. I would always engage him in conversations just to learn something new that day. I can only imagine all of the obstacles this man had encountered and hurdled growing up. My condolences go out to his family and love ones. God Bless! RIP

  13. H. BUTLER says:


  14. Ian Henry says:

    I am really blessed to read of the rens, I first learned about them in reading basketball books, as a player of the best game in the world, this taught me that I didn’t know a lot about basketball’s truest winners who were denied the opportunity to compete. I am so proud to read of this brother, John Issacs and i am honoured to read about his legacy and his style as a human being and how he blessed those around him. I am deep sorry for his loss of life, but the legacy will live on and also be an inspiration to live as a a decent human being. Deepest condolances to his family.

  15. Roan says:

    I just found out about Mr. Isaacs and truly know I was blessed to have just known him for a time. I did an interview (one of my first ) with Mr. Boy Wonder in 2003. I loved sitting back and listening to the stories and wondering ‘how can he remember so much about 70 years ago’. If you never had the chance to meet him I hope that you go and read some of his interviews because he was a person that you felt privilaged to have met. I remember he told me the 5 P’s= Proper Perpetration Prevents Poor Performance which means in essence that if you prepare for something properly it will prevent a poor performance. I just wanted to add a note of respect and the hope that we all take time to remember what it took for barrack to be President was not just him but many that paved the way for World Championship and not Negro World Champions. That is from a story Mr. Issacs told me about him cutting off the Negro from his World Champion jacket. They had beat an all white team for the title but the Negro was added after they won. He believed himself to be nothing less than a World Champion… and even with the short time I spent with him I know he was.

  16. rod drake says:

    Very special man, It takes special people to work wit children and to do it so long ,AMAZING….think of the lives changed

  17. Karen Wells says:

    I recently learned of John Isaacs when I bcame involved with Black Fives and The Harlem Magic Masters. Mr. Isaacs was a true treasure in our community and we should make sure that his memory is always celebrated for future generations. If we fail to remember where we have been and the trails that were blazed, we weaken the foundation of our community. I will volunteer for any effort that is being put forth to make sure John Isaacs is voted into the NBA HAll of Fame. John Isaacs was no less than a World Champion and it is up to us to MAKE SURE that is recognized. My condolences to the family and the community on the loss of this great man. I pray that God will hold the family in the palm of HIS hand and give us the strength to carry on this amazing legacy.

  18. the Paul & Jones Family says:

    First I would like to extend my deepest sorrow for the family of John Issac. I would also like to extend my deepest sorrow for the Madison Avenue Boys & Girls Club and their loss. Mr. Issac was Madison Avenue Boys & Girls Club he kept a lot of children on the right path in life and they have had the experience of knowing hands on a great legend. My children who are adults now have been member of this club my son Cleveland (CJ) is still a member of the basketball team and he goes to the weight room. My daughter Heather was also a member and a summer youth worker there. As for myself I would always exchange books with him & Lugo. Yvette

  19. Arif Khatib says:

    To the family of John, my life changed for the better after I met John. It was my pleasure to honor him in Atlantic City in 2005. He was a tremendous basketball player but a better person. He lived life to the fullest and never said no when someone wanted his autograph or a photo. He would attend my inducton ceremonies in NY or whatever, and bring a supply of photos and signed each one when someone wanted it. I never observed or heard him ask anyone for payment for these photos and autographs. In short, he was a giver! He will be missed by me and millions of others.

  20. Ed Cales says:

    It was a great honor for me to know Coach Isaacs both at the Boys & Girls club and at New York Life Ins. Co. He was a great inspiration to me and taught me a great deal about the game and life. These are things that I will carry for the rest of my life. He was a pioneer and always provided a wealth of knowledge. God bless you “Coach” John Isaacs.

  21. Mary Bailey says:

    I am so sorry to hear the passing of my friend Mr John Isaacs, I met him at the boys and girls clubs, we was a good friend, and a inspiration to me and all who knew him. I will miss you and may God Bless You.

  22. Yes, they say in Heaven you can talk and talk for ever and ever and someone will always be there to listen. He’ll be gone and missed but not forgotten.

  23. Well said, Zach. My heart goes out to you, and all those John knew. It’s never easy to lose a friend. We don’t often sift through the memories while someone is here. Then someone is gone. Then we find the pages again, of the scrapbooks of our lives together with Mr. John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs. Then it sinks in. Tears, yes. But soon replaced by fond memories, and stories to tell, and laughter together, with others, savoring the privilege of what was. :-)

  24. charles (jap) robinson says:

    my pleasure of meeting mr. Isaacs,came back in the 60″s at the bronx “boy’s club”.which was on freeman st. and southern blvd at the time. mr. Isaacs was a man you could always look up and learn from.my condolences to his family

  25. Ed Cales says:

    I too have fond memories of John at New York Life and the Boys & Girls Club. He was always there to correct and hone my Basketball skills and intellengence which helped me in the game of life.

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