In 1943 the Washington Bears, an all-black basketball team, went 41-0 while winning the World Professional Basketball Tournament, the nation’s highest basketball title.
“Winning the World’s title, the Washington team performed a feat that NO PREVIOUS WINNER HAS RECORDED. They finished the 1943 season with a perfect record having won every one of their 41 starts. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE TURN OF THE CENTURY THAT A PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL TEAM HAS ENJOYED A SEASON WITHOUT A SINGLE DEFEAT.”
— Leo Fischer, Sports Editor, Chicago Herald-American, writing in the 1942-43 Converse Basketball Yearbook.
In the days when using ALL CAPS in print really meant something, this write up said a lot, coming from Fischer, who was the chairman of the tournament itself, and considering that it was sponsored and staged by the Herald-American, one of Chicago’s leading newspapers.The Bears, often called the Washington “Lichtman” Bears, was sponsored by Abe Lichtman, a successful local businessman who owned a chain of “colored” movie theaters around D.C. They played home games at the old Turner’s Arena, which once stood on the northeast corner of 14th and W Streets.
Winning the championship was hard enough, but going undefeated was an especially difficult accomplishment when one factors in all the challenges the Bears had to face, both on and off the court.
In the title game, John Isaacs led both teams in scoring as the Bears beat the Oshkosh All Stars of the National Basketball League.
Isaacs has been considered for enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Other players on the team – which was made up of former New York Rens stars whose salaries owner Bob Douglas could not match during the lean war years – included future Basketball Hall of Fame members Charles “Tarzan” Cooper and William “Pop” Gates.
“Yes sir,” wrote Chicago Defender sports columnist Eddie Gant, “the Bears are the best.”