Basketball’s growing popularity among blacks after its introduction in 1904 resulted in the emergence of numerous teams at all levels of skill in the next decade. Schools, clubs, and churches used the game to engage African American youth and their communities. Organizations backing teams with top talent got more publicity, which meant more spectators and ticket sales.

Entrepreneurial black basketball promoters realized they could use some of the increasing revenue to pay their players, which in turn attracted better talent. A shared income business model developed, and players began to get paid.

There was strong opposition to this idea from strictly amateur African American teams because that was the stance of basketball’s most highly regarded white authorities. “When men commence to make money out of sport, it degenerates with most tremendous speed,” wrote one of the game’s founders. Such attitudes influenced African American basketball teams with gate receipt sharing arrangements to keep them a secret.

Reverend Daniel

Rev. Everard Daniel, assistant pastor, St. Philip’s Protestant Episcopal Church | Ca. 1917 | Reproduction

New York All Stars

New York All Stars basketball team featuring Will Anthony Madden as mascot | 1910 | Reproduction

In 1910, Major Aloysius Hart, the coach, manager, and promoter of the Manhattan-based St. Christopher Club’s basketball team, formed the first African American openly semi-pro team, the New York All Stars. He left the St. Christopher organization and persuaded top stars from the city’s amateur teams, including the best St. Christopher Club players, to join his new squad.

Hart was boycotted by the St. Christopher Club’s athletic director, Rev. Everard Daniel of St. Philip’s Protestant Episcopal Church, the team’s sponsor, and by New York City’s amateur basketball establishment. The All Stars folded as a result.

St. Christopher vs. Howard University ad

Advertisement and promotion for the championship basketball game between Howard University and the St. Christopher Club at the Manhattan Casino, with souvenirs | 1914 | Reproduction

In 1905, Will Anthony Madden began his rise to national stardom by joining the St. Christopher Club, a youth athletic organization, first as a volunteer and as the basketball team’s mascot. He temporarily left the St. Christopher Club in 1910 to help Major Hart with the New York All Stars, but returned as the team’s manager in 1912, building it up to championship level status with innovative coaching and a flare for promotion that became his trademark.

Will Anthony Madden

Will Anthony Madden, Black Fives Era pioneer | Ca. 1915 | Reproduction

Promotional medallion

Dieges & Clust, Makers, New York | Souvenir Medallion, Annual Basket Ball Game, St. Christopher vs. Howard University, March 20th, 1915 | 1915 | Silk, gold-toned metal

This novelty piece is the earliest known in-arena promotional fan giveaway, used to attract patrons to the game, and celebrating the rivalry between amateur club teams.


Romeo Dougherty, sports writer with the New York Amsterdam News | Ca. 1920 | Reproduction

St. Christopher

St. Christopher Club basketball team, featuring Clarence “Fats” Jenkins and a young Paul Robeson | 1919 | Reproduction


Dieges & Clust, Makers, New York | St. Christopher Club, Lafayette Theatre, Trophy, 5 1/2 Miles Handicap Road Run/ 1st Prize, Nov. 18, 1917 (a Harlem road race sponsored by the Lafayette Theatre), typical of trophies of the period | 1917 | Silver plate

Prior to the 1914-15 season, Will Anthony Madden, manager of the Colored Basketball World’s Championship winning St. Christopher Club basketball program, took that team’s best players and left the organization to form a new semi-professional squad, the New York Incorporators, which immediately became popular. Amsterdam News sportswriter Romeo Dougherty, outraged about his desertion, accused Madden of stealing the Hunt Trophy – the “handsome silver trophy donated by William H. Hunt, United States Consul at St. Etienne, France,” one of the club’s prized possessions. Madden, whose diminutive stature and authoritative style earned him the nickname “Little Napoleon,” insisted he and the departing players had earned it.

Standard Oil Building

Lumitone Photo Print, New York | Standard Oil Building, 26 Broadway, New York City, the workplace of several Black Fives Era pioneers | 1910s | Postcard

Several of New York City’s early black basketball pioneers were employed as messengers at the Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Standard Oil Company, including Will Anthony Madden.

Kids on street

Group of African American boys posing street side, from African American Family Photograph Album, Compiled ca. 1920s-1940s | Ca. 1920s | Reproduction

Album page

Entire page, from African American Family Photograph Album, Compiled ca. 1920s-1940s, includes photographs of outdoor game between female African American basketball teams | Ca. 1920s

Tip off at Morehouse

Tip-off of basketball game between two historically black colleges, Morehouse College and Wilberforce University, February 6, 1925 | 1925 | Reproduction

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