Among the things that the Black Fives Blog is working on is the back end of the website, the stories of the teams and players from the Black Fives Era.
Two weeks ago, a post featured Robert “Bob” Douglas, whose basketball team got its name from the ballroom in which it played. His famed “New York Renaissance” were America’s first all-black, black-owned, fully professional basketball team.
The “Rens” attracted the best African American talent in basketball. The team’s original lineup included future Basketball Hall of Famers Clarence “Fats” Jenkins and James “Pappy” Ricks, as well as Frank “Strangler” Forbes and Leon Monde. All four of these men also played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues.
By 1924-25 the “Rens” had won the first of many Colored Basketball World Championships and thereafter proceeded to dominate not just black basketball, but all of basketball for the next 25 years. During that period, the Rens routinely beat white national champion basketball teams — like the Original Celtics, the Philadelphia SPHAS, and the Indianapolis Kautskys — with their pioneering motion offense.
In one stretch during the 1932-33 season, the Renaissance won 88 straight games in 86 days. That 1933 team, which included Willie Smith, Zach Clayton, and Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, was inducted as a unit into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1963.
The peak of the Rens fame and success came in 1939 when they won the first ever World Pro Basketball Tournament, an event sponsored by the Chicago Herald-American, a leading newspaper. The Rens, one of only two all-black entries in the 12-team invitation-only pool, beat the all-white Oshkosh All-Stars of the racially segregated National Basketball League (a forerunner to the NBA) in the title game.
As racial barriers began to break down following World War II, the National Basketball League invited the New York Rens to take over the Dayton franchise, thus making the Rens (called the Dayton Rens) the first all-black basketball team to join a professional league in 1948.
In the 25 years leading up to that, the Rens won 2,588 of 3,117 games — a staggering success rate of 83 percent. That’s a mark that Jordan’s Bulls, Wooden’s Bruins and Auerbach’s Celtics could only envy.
That story just begins to scratch the surface of the history of the Black Fives Era. Check it out and share that history with others!