The 1942-43 Washington Bears, winners of the 1943 World’s Championship of Professional Basketball. Left to right, Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, Charlie Isles, William “Dolly” King, John Isaacs, William “Pop” Gates, Clarence “Puggy” Bell, Zach Clayton, Robert “Sonny” Wood, and Jackie Bethards.

The 1942-43 Washington Bears, winners of the 1943 World’s Championship of Professional Basketball. Left to right, Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, Charlie Isles, William “Dolly” King, John Isaacs, William “Pop” Gates, Clarence “Puggy” Bell, Zach Clayton, Robert “Sonny” Wood, and Jackie Bethards.

Location: Washington, D.C.
Home Court:
Turner’s Arena
Nickname:
“Bears”, “Lichtman Bears”
Manager:
Harold “Hal” Jackson

The Washington Bears, an all-black professional basketball team, were organized in 1941 by sports business entrepreneur Harold “Hal” Jackson, a Washington, D.C. native. Jackson, a sports broadcasting and journalism pioneer, leveraged his popularity as the radio play-by-play announcer for Howard University and Homestead Grays baseball games.

Bears logo

The official logo of the Washington Bears.

With financial backing from local theater chain owner Abe Lichtman, the Bears had more cash to spend than New York Rens owner Bob Douglas, whose barnstorming revenues had been limited by wartime rationing of gasoline, tires, and related supplies. Under these conditions, Jackson was able to sign away the majority of Rens players. It was an unbeatable combination of stars that included Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, William “Pop” Gates, William “Dolly” King, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, and Zack Clayton.

The properties controlled by Lichtman, including the famous Howard Theater on T Street, were among the city’s only playhouses that catered to African Americans.

In 1943 the Washington Bears went 41-0 and won the invitation-only World Championship of Professional Basketball, the nation’s highest basketball title, held in Chicago and sponsored by the Chicago Herald-American newspaper.

“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