HOUSTON— The New York Renaissance, often known as The New York Rens, was founded on February 13, 1923 and is regarded as the first African American professional basketball club. The team became famous for its uniform of baggy green pants and a headband worn by star player Willie James "Red" Kerr who helped lead the team to victory over several European basketball powers including CSKA Moscow and Leningrad's Dynamo.
They played in Harlem at the St. Nicholas Arena where they drew large crowds of adoring fans known as "renaissance people". The Renaissance won the first NBA championship in 1924/25 after posting a 26-6 record that season.
They continued to play until 1926 when their owner moved them to Chicago where they became the Zephyrs. No black teams have ever won an NBA title since then and today only two teams remain from the original six that formed the league: the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Renaissance had some great players such as "Dynamite" Dan Dawson, George Mikan, and Doug Moe. They also had two of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Eddie Gottlieb and Willie James "Red" Kerr who managed the team together before Red retired after one season to become the head coach of the University of Oklahoma Sooners.
The New York Renaissance (called the Harlem "Rens") stood out as possibly the most successful basketball team of the century, regardless of race or ethnicity. From 1923 through 1948, the Rens won 2,588 of 3,117 games, a stunning 83 percent winning ratio during a 25-year span! They went undefeated in 1947 and were national champions by most polls.
The team was founded by James Naismith with a mission to develop basketball for schools across America. In keeping with this goal, no one was excluded from playing because they were black or because they came from a poor family. The Rens played in racially integrated leagues and tournaments and drew players from all over the country. They also attracted good white coaches who wanted to prove themselves worthy of being kept on board - such as Red Avery, who took over when Tom Hoover left to coach Chicago's Carlisle Indian School team. Other notable coaches included Harry "Fats" Richman and Joe Lapchick.
Besides being extremely successful, the Rens made basketball popular among blacks and whites alike. They traveled around the country playing 12 months of the year, attending schools where there was no basketball program. This allowed them to win without losing many games, which helped them build up a huge reputation.
From 1904—when basketball was first presented to African Americans on a large-scale, organized basis—until the racial integration of the National Basketball League in the 1940s and the National Basketball Association in 1950—the sport remained separated. The first known game played by an integrated team occurred on February 5, 1944, when Columbia University and New York City's all-white Fordham University met on the floor of Madison Square Garden.
However, before those games took place, there were many other games played by black teams that are now lost to history. A newspaper article published in January 1904 mentions a game being played in Philadelphia between a team from the Howard University Gymnasium and one from the University of Pennsylvania. This is the earliest reference found to date directly linking the word "basketball" and the term "integrated basketball team."
The first known game played by a black college or university team outside of the United States took place on November 9, 1905, when Howard University met St. John's College, Toronto, Canada, at Victoria Memorial Hall. The game was part of the annual Black Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (BIAC) tournament held in Toronto each year. The winner went on to play another school in the conference for the title. That season, Howard defeated St. John's College to win the tournament.
In Babylon, New York, the first African-American professional sports team was formed. They are known as the Cuban Giants. The National Colored Baseball League is founded in 1887, making it the first professional African-American league.
The Pirates fielded the first all-black lineup in Major League Baseball history on September 1, 1971.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) combines with its competitor, the American Basketball Association (ABA), on August 5, 1976, and acquires the ABA's four most successful franchises: the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York (later Brooklyn) Nets, and San Antonio Spurs. The remaining ABA teams join new leagues established for 1994-95 season: the Continental Basketball Association and the Women's Professional Basketball League.
The ABA was founded in 1967 by a group of businessmen who wanted to create a second major league after the NFL. The ABA expanded quickly, reaching 14 teams by 1975. But despite having more teams than the NFL, the ABA never really threatened the dominance of the NFL or NBA. The two largest sports leagues in America are now one single entity. This merger was not only good for business but also allowed both leagues to be equally competitive. Before the merger there had been disputes between the NBA and the ABA about which league had rights to certain players; for example, an ABA team could not sign Ralph Sampson, who later played for the Virginia Cavaliers in the NBA, because he already had a contract with an NBA team. By merging their leagues, they avoided any potential problems with contracts or trades.
The NBA is currently the more popular of the two leagues, with more famous players and bigger crowds. But both leagues have been through many changes since their beginnings.
Russell Russell became the first African American to lead a major professional sports club when he took over as coach of the Boston Celtics in 1967. The Professional Basketball Writers Association of America named him the "Greatest Player in NBA History" in 1980. Many admirers continue to agree. He is also considered one of the best ballplayers in NBA history.
During his nine-year tenure with the Celtics, Russell led them to the playoffs six times and earned a spot on the NBA's All-Star Team five times. His greatest accomplishment as a coach came when he guided the young Celtics team to victory in Game 7 of the 1968 Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the first playoff win for the Celtics since 1957 and made Russell only the second black manager in NBA history (Phil Jordon being the first). After leaving the Celtics to take over as head coach at Kansas City Kings, Russell died in 1991 at the age of 50.
In 1992, the National Basketball Players Association or NBPA, announced that it would give $250,000 over four years to help develop minority coaches in basketball. The first grant was given to the University of Massachusetts Lowell to create a position called "Director of Minority Coaching." The other three grants were given to the University of Rhode Island, Vermont College and William & Mary respectively.
Basketball became a fixture of Jewish community life in the first part of the twentieth century. From Jewish Community Centers to labor unions and department stores, nearly every metropolitan institution had a basketball team. The documentary The First Basket follows the development of these community-based teams into professional leagues. This film was produced by the American Vision organization for educational purposes only.
The first known all-Jewish basketball team came about as a result of a dispute between two Chicago area clubs over who would be granted the right to use the JCC of Chicago name. The original JCC of Chicago team was founded in 1949 by several former members of the Chicago Studebakers amateur league team. The team's owner decided to move forward with plans to play in the then-existing National Basketball Association (NBA). Although most people assume that Jews were the only ones playing basketball at this time, this is not true. Black Americans also played this sport before it became popular among white Americans. There are many stories told about these early games involving Jews and blacks in Chicago. For example, some sources say that there was even a black coach for the Jewish team!
Eventually, other Jewish teams followed suit and by 1953, there were ten Jewish teams competing in the NBA. The First Basket tells the story of these communities' efforts to have a voice in sports decisions and how they managed to get recognized by the NBA.