A chronology of important dates in the history of the Black Fives Era of basketball.
Dr. James Naismith invents the sport of basketball after he is asked to come up with a game that can keep young men occupied and physically active during the winter months. The first game is played in a YMCA gymnasium in Springfield, Massachusetts, after Naismith nails a peach basket to the bottom of the running track there.
St. Philips Protestant Episcopal Church, the most prestigious black church in America at the time, organizes the St. Christopher Club in the Tenderloin District of New York City (now midtown Manhattan) as a religious program for young African American men, that soon expands to include athletic activities to keep the attention of its members.
True Reformer’s Hall, the first post-Reconstruction building to be financed, designed, and built entirely by African Americans, is dedicated in Washington, DC. Beginning in 1904, the hall will become the center of the region’s black basketball scene and remain so for more than a decade.
Now with over 600 members, the Colored Branch of the Washington, D.C. Y.M.C.A. moves from its Eleventh Street office into the newly completed True Reformer’s Hall building.
Returning from a summer class at Harvard University where he learned the game, a black physical education instructor named Edwin Henderson teaches basketball to black students in Washington, DC’s segregated public school system, and soon organizes teams and events, marking the first time that the sport is widely introduced to African Americans.
In Washington, DC, Edwin Henderson establishes the first all-black athletic conference, the Interscholastic Athletic Association (ISAA), an amateur organization that aimed to promote competitive sport among African Americans. As the result of the formation of the ISAA and Henderson’s evangelistic efforts, various all-black basketball teams and players from public school systems, athletic clubs, churches, colleges, and Colored YMCAs soon begin to emerge and thrive in and around Washington, and throughout the middle-Atlantic states.
The Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn and the St. Christopher Club of New York City establish the first fully organized independent all-black basketball teams; the teams advocate strictly amateur status.
The amateur, all-black Olympian Athletic League is formed in New York City – the first league comprised of independent teams with a schedule, standings, and a championship – consisting of the Smart Set Athletic Club, St. Christopher Club, Marathon Athletic Club, Alpha Physical Culture Club, and the Jersey City Colored YMCA.
The first inter-city basketball game between two black teams is played when the Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn travels to Washington, DC to play the Crescent Athletic Club.
Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, considered by many to be the greatest center of his time, is born in Wilmington, DE. Cooper, who played for the Philadelphia Panthers, New York Rens, and Washington Bears, led the Rens to 1,303 wins, including 88 straight wins in 86 days in 1933, and won the World Pro Basketball Championship in 1939 and 1943 before retiring in 1944; he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1976.
The “Colored Basketball World’s Championship” is established; it begins as an unofficial term coined by a New York Age sportswriter to designate the best African American “five” in the country.
The Twelfth Street Colored YMCA of Washington, DC forms a basketball team, known as the “12 Streeters”; almost every player is a current or former student of nearby Howard University. The 12 Streeters win the 1909-1910 Colored Basketball World’s Championship with an undefeated record.
Most of the players on the Twelfth Street Colored Y team leave to form Howard University’s first varsity basketball team, led and coached by Henderson, which promptly wins the 1910-1911 Colored Basketball World’s Championship with an undefeated season.
The basketball manager of the amateur, church-sponsored St. Christopher Club defects with many St. Christopher players and other top stars to form a new semi-pro team, the New York All Stars, the first all-black pay-for-play team; their manager’s rogue tactics are labeled “unclean.”
The Manhattan Casino, a large ballroom across the street from the Polo Grounds in upper Harlem, becomes the destination of choice for music, dancing, and black basketball.
In a game that puts Pittsburgh on the black basketball map, a previously unknown African American team called the Monticello Athletic Association hosts and defeats “invincible” Howard University, the previous year’s national black basketball champion.
The St. Christopher Club regains full strength with the help of a new manager who introduces “scientific basketball” techniques and novel marketing promotions, leading the team to its first Colored Basketball World’s Championship.
Will Anthony Madden, the manager of the strictly amateur St. Christopher Club, and most of his players break away from the St. Christopher Club in a dispute over money for play. They form a new semi-professional all-black basketball team, the St. Christopher Club of New York, Inc., whose mirror-image name is so confusing that the public eventually dubs them simply the New York “Incorporators.” The Incorporators enjoy immediate success.
Chicago joins New York and Pittsburgh as a prominent black basketball power when the Wabash Avenue Colored YMCA “Outlaws” travel to New York City to play the Incorporators. A New York-Chicago black basketball rivalry is born.
The Amateur Athletic Union formally certifies a black basketball referee from New York City, Chris Huiswoud, who becomes the first African American to officiate an AAU-sanctioned basketball game.
The black-run Metropolitan Basketball Association becomes the first governing body to preside over amateur black basketball. When the MBA bans all “unclean” pay-for-play teams and players, they miscalculate the popularity of such teams, opening the door for a wave of professionalism in black basketball.
Two white sports promoters in Harlem form the Commonwealth Five, an all-black team playing out of the Commonwealth Sporting Club and Casino, using guaranteed full-year contracts, thus making it the first fully professional African American basketball team.
The New York Renaissance Big Five are born when their owner agrees to rename his all-black Spartan Braves basketball team after the newly opened Renaissance Ballroom and Casino in Harlem. When the Renaissance introduce guaranteed year-long contracts, they become the first black-owned, fully professional basketball team. The “Rens” debut at the Renaissance Casino on November 3, beating the all-white Collegian Five, 28–22.
The Loendi Big Five of Pittsburgh, named after an exclusive all-black social club in that city, win their fourth straight Colored Basketball World’s Championship, for the 1922-23 season.
The Loendi Big Five plays the Clarksburg Five in Clarksburg, Virginia in the first game between an all-black basketball team and an all-white team below the Mason-Dixon Line. No ensuing trouble is reported.
The Commonwealth Five win the Colored Basketball World’s Championship, becoming the only white-owned team ever to win the title.
The New York Renaissance Big “R” Five win 88 straight games in a stretch of 86 days on their way to a season record of 127-7. This team in its entirety was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1963.
From a pool of the nation’s twelve best professional basketball teams, the New York Renaissance beat the Oshkosh All-Stars — champions of the segregated National Basketball League — at Chicago Coliseum, 34–25, to win the championship title in the first World Pro Basketball Tournament.
William “Dolly” King, a powerfully built guard and the star player for Long Island University’s undefeated varsity basketball team, leaves college midseason to play professionally with the New York Rens. LIU went on to win the National Invitational Tournament without him. Within weeks, King was the leading scorer in the Rosenblum Pro Basketball Tournament in Cleveland, and made the all-tournament team in the 1941 World Pro Basketball Tournament a few months later.
Toledo White Huts owner Sid Goldberg broke the National Basketball League’s color barrier by signing four African-American players: Bill Jones, Casey Jones, Al Price, and Shannie Barnett. The Chicago Studebakers of the N.B.L. joined the White Huts by signing six black players: Wyatt “Sonny” Boswell, Roscoe “Duke” Cumberland, Tony Peyton, Bernie Price, Roosie Hudson, and Hillary Brown.
Tennis great Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. is born in Richmond, Virginia. Ashe’s preliminary research of early black basketball in his seminal book, A Hard Road to Glory: the History of the African American Athlete, provides the inspiration that leads to the creation of Black Fives, Inc.
The Washington Bears, an all-black team with a roster of former New York Rens players, goes undefeated and wins the World Championship of Professional Basketball in Chicago.
The National Basketball League signs four African American players: William “Dolly” King with the Rochester Royals, Willie King with the Detroit Gems, Bill Farrow with the Youngstown Bears, and future Basketball Hall of Fame member William “Pop” Gates with the Buffalo Bisons. (The Bisons later became the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, representing Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa.)
Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, a star center for the Philadelphia Panthers, New York Renaissance, and Washington Bears, is enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
William “Pop” Gates, a star forward with the New York Renaissance, Harlem Globetrotters, Buffalo Bisons, and Dayton Rens, is enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.