New York Renaissance

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The New York Renaissance Big Five , or New York Renaissance for short , New York Rens or Rennies and, based on the home venue, rarely also the Harlem Renaissance Big Five were the dominant basketball team of the twenties , thirties and early forties . They were one of the Black Fives-era teams that consisted entirely of black players in the first half of the 20th century . The Rens were founded by Bob Douglas in 1923 and lasted until 1949. The team has won over 2,500 in its history and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1963.

The Harlem Renaissance Ballroom in 2014, a year before it was demolished.


Robert Douglas decided, also under the impression of the black Commonwealth Big Five founded by the white McMahon brothers in 1922, to completely professionalize the basketball team of the Spartan Braves and to equip it with seasonal contracts. As early as the spring of 1923, negotiations between Douglas and the owners of the newly built Renaissance Ballroom , a dance hall and casino known from the fourth season of the TV series Boardwalk Empire (but not shown there) on the corner of 7th Avenue and 138th Street, had to start New York district of Harlem , have come. In return for game and training facilities, he adopted the name New York Renaissance. He received support in building his team from another West Indian immigrant, Romeo Dougherty of the weekly New York Amsterdam News . The black press quickly took the Rens under their wing. For example, while Cumberland Posey's sporting professionalism was criticized as ignoble by the Pittsburgh Courier , Bob Douglas was admired in Harlem for his sporting achievements and solvency. This admiration soon became a mission for him and he saw his New York Rens as ambassadors for the "black cause". As a result, the Rens were extremely disciplined or almost hostile to pleasure in contrast to the Chicago Harlem Globetrotters , whose talent Douglas admired, while he despised their clowning.

Douglas' first team, which played against the white Collegiate Five in the ballroom on November 3, 1923 , consisted of Zack Anderson, Hy Monte, Harold Jenkins and the three Spartan Braves Leon Monde, Hilton "Kid" Slocum and Frank "Strangler" Forbes. In early 1924 there were two defeats against the Commonwealth Big Five , whose James "Pappy" Ricks was committed in 1924, as was the case after the breakup of the team, George Fiall and the long-time Captain of the Rens, Clarence "Fats" Jenkins in the 1925/26 season.

The legendary friendship and rivalry with the New York Celtics began at the beginning of 1925. In the course of a year by February 1926 there were seven games with a total of two victories for the Rens. By 1944 the Rens played 156 games against the Original Celtics and until the end there were bonuses for wins. Douglas always looked for tough competition for his Renaissance Five to edify the fans.

The team soon established itself with their superior passing game and fast breaks. In the first six years of their existence the Rens had a record of 465-95 victories. The Rens routinely defeated ABL teams and occasionally even the Celtics or the Philadelphia SPHAs. So, in early 1929, they set out for the Midwest with the 1926 American Tennis Association champion Eyre Saitch . There they defeated both ex-Rens George Fiall and Specks Moton with the Savoy Five (later the Harlem Globetrotters) and the Cleveland Elks , but were defeated by the white ABL teams of the Fort Wayne Hoosiers and the Chicago Bruins .

The Rens During Depression

The Renaissance Five traditionally started their season with a home game on Election Day . During the season, home games for Thanksgiving and Christmas were also traditional highlights. In 1929, the Renaissance Ballroom was renovated for 10,000 dollars and the Rens went during the world economic crisis on tour. It wasn't until 1932 that the team returned to their home for a benefit game against the Celtics in favor of the Harlem Boy Scouts. The evening was musically played by Cab Calloway and orchestra. First, however, an injunction by the New York Celtics had to be rejected in 1929. Three or four Rens had signed with the Celtics despite valid contracts with Bob Douglas. Without a regular game operation and a transfer and eligibility supervision by leagues, African-American basketball players remained fee workers who tried to hire themselves for the best possible wages. John Holt replaced Harold Mayers in 1931.

In January 1933 Douglas became the manager of the Renaissance Ballroom and stayed at home from then on. Eric Illidge took on his role as local manager and Fats Jenkins became player coach . Both sat in the Blue Goose , the ten-seat Rens bus, mostly in the front. As the biggest player, Tarzan Cooper vehemently defended the seat next to the door. Two months later, in March 1933, a streak of 88 victories in 86 days against the Celtics in Philadelphia ended. Between 1932 and 1936, the Rens consisted mostly of Fats Jenkins, Eyre Saitch, Pappy Ricks, Tarzan Cooper, Johnny Holt, Bill Yancey, and Wee Willie Smith. In 1935/36 Jackie Bethards replaced Pappy Ricks.

In 1935 the Rens went to the deep south for the first time . Her southern states tour took her through Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi to New Orleans and was very successful. The Rens also attracted a lot of white fans, but the audience remained separate. Food was also very difficult. The Rens ate in the canteens of black colleges, privately or in colored YMCAs.

It was similar in 1936 in the Midwest with up to 5000 or 7500 spectators. Indiana and southern Illinois were de iure segregated northern states . When there were no colored quarters, the Rens had no choice but to buy long-life pastries and tinned food and make sandwiches. In Indiana they set up camp in Indianapolis and drove from there to their performances in a star shape. Usually one game a day, two on Sundays, which usually resulted in defeats on Monday. In 1937 there was a remarkable game against the Celtics in Louisville, KY, because the Rens would probably not have been able to play against a local white team due to racial segregation. In general, they had to get used to the N-word in the south or to the fact that the word "Colored" was spelled backwards.

In 1936 the Renaissance Ballroom was renovated for $ 15,000. Because of the weak economy, the Rens went on tour again from 1936 to 1939 without home games and were a popular guest. In the 1936/37 season, Zack Clayton and John Isaacs were committed. The next year Louis Badger and Al "Big Train" Johnson. In the 1938/39 season Badger joined the Harlem Yankees , the Rens also lost John Holt to the police force and Jackie Bethards. For this Puggy Bell and William "Pop" Gates were engaged.

World Professional Basketball Tournament

From March 26 to 28, 1939, the Chicago Herald American hosted the first World Professional Basketball Tournament and promoters Harry Hannin and Harry Wilson invited the New York Rens to Chicago with eleven other teams. In the Midwest, the New York Renaissance and Harlem Globetrotters were eagerly awaiting a trial of strength and in the semifinals the time had come: After numerous unsuccessful challenges by the Chicago team, the Rens won 27-23 in front of Bob Douglas who had arrived. In the final, the Rens defeated the reigning National Basketball League champion of the Oshkosh All-Stars with 34-25. At the banquet that followed, Douglas and the Rens celebrated a total of 1583-239 victories in the sixteen years of their existence and Puggy Bell's election as tournament MVP .

After the season, Fats Jenkins retired and Eyre Saitch was named captain. There was another southern tour and in the game against the Heurich Brewers in Washington DC, the black press reported a fully integrated audience with no segregated grandstands. At the World Professional Basketball Tournament, the Rens were defeated in the quarter-finals by the eventual winner of the Harlem Globetrotters, whom they cheered on from the sidelines in the final.

In 1940/41 the Rens signed the former star athletes of Syracuse University Wilmeth Sidat-Singh and Long Island University William "Dolly" King, as well as Charlie Isles from the Detroit Big Five alongside Saitch, Cooper, Smith, Gates and Bell. In the World Professional Basketball Tournament, the Rens were eliminated in the semifinals against the eventual winner of the Detroit Eagles , who were coached by the former Celtics Pivot Dutch Dehnert.

In the 1941/42 season, Bob Douglas, whose word was as good as a contract, renounced contracts with his players because of the war and possible drafts. Sidat-Singh joined the Tuskegee Airmen's African-American Army Aviation Corps and Tarzan Cooper worked in a Philadelphia terminal before joining Grumman Aircraft on Long Island such as Johnny Isaacs, Dolly King and Pop Gates. They were represented by the globetrotters Hillery Brown, Sonny Boswell and Duke Cumberland, as well as the newcomer Sonny Wood. In December, the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA, from 1950 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association ), which represented many historically African-American universities in the southern states, banned professional teams from competing. From then on, the Rens had to forego guest tours to the south.

In 1942, Randy Dixon of the Pittsburgh Courier and Al White of the Associated Negro Press reported on "Basketball Inc." Tarzan Cooper, Johnny Isaacs, William "Pop" Gates, Dolly King, Bricktop Wright and Wilmeth Sidat-Singh were named, who ran for up to six black professional teams on the east coast, such as the Rens, the Mets, the Toppers and the Harlem Yankees , the Paterson Crescents and the Washington Bears . A top player like Jenkins could earn up to $ 1,500 a season, while Rens and Globetrotters made between $ 150 and $ 250 a month. The Rens also paid $ 50 bonuses for wins against the Celtics. For this income, however, the players had to play up to one hundred games per year. Paying the Lichtman Bears was of course extremely tempting: $ 500 plus a bonus for 23 games on Sundays. Al White explained that the same free agents hired out for all teams, but always booked the Bears games first. And those who worked for Grumman Aircraft, of course, also played in the integrated works team of the Long Island Grumman Flyers and the Long Island Grumman Hellcats .

Douglas had to cancel the planned tour of the Midwest because the Grumman players could not leave their jobs in national defense. Tom Sealey and John Williams were signed for them. The World Professional Basketball Tournament in Chicago was definitely planned. Only one player, Sonny Wood, had ever asked Douglas for permission to play for the Bears. The Washington Bears were also registered for the tournament and it became apparent that the players only wanted to play for the Bears. However, the Bears and Rens were the exact same team and Douglas withdrew the registration of the New York Renaissance. He believed that Hannin and Wilson had encouraged Washington to "steal" his team because a team with a perfect season has a certain racing reputation. Douglas subsequently made his influence felt and in the following years the players competed in the tournament exclusively for the New York Renaissance. In any case, the tournament was won in 1943 with the players Gates, Bell, Wood, King, Isles, Cooper, Clayton and Isaacs with 43-31 against the previous year's triumphant arch-rivals of the Oshkosh All-Stars.

Because of the war-related gasoline rationing, Douglas only booked games in the vicinity of New York City and established Sunday games to which he hoped to draw soldiers out. In 1943/44 he hired Hank DeZonie, who resigned in 1950 after five NBA games with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks out of disgust at the racism off the basketball field. In March, the Rens moved to the Midwest for the Cleveland Invitational Tournament, which was won for the third time in a row in 1944, and the World Professional Basketball Tournament, in which they played against the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons in the semi-finals and against the Globetrotters in the game for the third place.

In 1945 they lost in the Cleveland final against the Detroit Mansfields and in the World Professional Basketball Tournament again against the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons in the semifinals and against the Chicago Gears in the game for third place.

The Rens in the post-war period

New players in 1945/46 were Benny Garrett and Lenny Pearson. At the World Professional Basketball Tournament the New York Rens set a record of the tournament with 82-39 against Toledo in the first round, but lost, as in 1942, in the quarterfinals against the Oshkosh All-Stars with 44-50. The team included King, Bell, Isles, Younger, DeZonie, Wood, Gates and Cumberland and some players had been seen partying at El Grotto nightclub until 4am the previous night.

The next season, Dolly King and Pop Gates were signed to two National Basketball League teams, the Rochester Royals and the Buffalo Bisons . Douglas did not want to put obstacles in the way of his stars or integration and therefore gave his blessing, because Dolly King was able to earn $ 7,000 in Rochester and on top of that, a $ 2,000 bonus. Gates got $ 1,000 a month during the season, $ 3 a day meal allowance, and $ 5 a day at training camp. For King and Gates he hired the future mayor of Atlantic City Jim Usry, Hillery Brown and Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton . Clifton had signed a total of four contracts, but Douglas's was the valid one and so an injunction by Saperstein was fought off. In December, the Rens traveled to the west coast for two games against the Red Devils integration team . Both teams were hoping for NBL franchises on the west coast and the Rens blamed the two defeats on the grueling flights. Four months later, Red Devil George Crowe and William "Rookie" Brown were signed by the Washington Bears for Bob Powell and Clifton. At the World Professional Basketball Tournament, the Rens were eliminated in the first round.

The Basketball Association of America (BAA), later the National Basketball Association (NBA), unlike the NBL and the ABL, insisted on its anti-Negro rule, but at the same time used the attraction of teams like the Rens and Globetrotters for double headers because while a game between New York Rens and Gottlieb's Philadelphia SPHAs drew 7,000 spectators, Gottlieb's Philadelphia Warriors only drew around 2000 spectators. Douglas allowed himself to be instrumentalized because he hoped that the BAA would open up in the long term. The founder of the New York Knickerbockers and managing director of Madison Square Gardens Ned Irish defended his New York basketball monopoly against black teams like the Rens and the Manhattan Nationals by putting pressure on numerous NBL teams who had agreements with the BAA to play games in New York venues to prevent. Nevertheless, he agreed to a double header with the Rens against the SPHAs and the Knickerbockers against the Providence Steamrollers at the beginning of the 1947/48 season . At the same time, Douglas was hoping for a BAA franchise for the New York Renaissance, but the majority of team owners voted against him. Former Celtics player Joe Lapchick made his stay in the BAA and as coach of the Knickerbockers dependent on this election in Philadelphia, but was soothed by Douglas, as he promised long-term benefits from Lapchick for integration. But even when Nathaniel Clifton, Earl Lloyd , Chuck Cooper and Hank DeZonie (Harold Hunter had also signed a contract) were supposed to integrate the NBA, the quota for African-American players remained until the 1960s. In sporting terms, the Rens saw a return of King and Gates, as well as a defeat in the final of the last World Professional Basketball Tournament against the NBL team of the Minneapolis Lakers, led by George Mikan .

In 1948/49 Eric Illidge leased the Rens from Douglas and Saperstein signed Nathaniel Clifton for $ 10,000, from which he was to be bought out by Ned Irish two years later. On December 17, NBL President Ike Duffey offered the Rens to take over the NBL franchise from the Detroit Vagabond Kings , who had broken up with $ 11,000 in debt and a pitiful audience and who had lost to the Rens by six points that same year. However, they had to agree to a move to Dayton , Ohio and take over table position such as points (2-17) of the Detroit Vagabond Kings they replaced . In the end there were 16-43 victories. Since the New York Rens continued to play in parallel, the Dayton Rens had signed Herb Beasley and John Brown. Although the NBL was integrated since 1941, the Dayton Rens found no home until the end and were never accepted by the public. Two months after the end of the season, the NBL dissolved the contract with the last-placed Dayton Rens. Bob Douglas threw in the towel and on May 25, 1949 rented the Rens to Abe Saperstein as an opponent of two Globetrotters teams.

The following season the NBL and BAA merged to form the NBA - without the New York Renaissance. A year later, the NBA was Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and New York Ren Nathaniel Clifton and Dayton Ren Hank DeZonie integrated . Although Douglas sent the Original Renaissance Five as a traveling group through the northeastern United States until the mid-1950s , the era of the Black Fives ended with that .

The fall of the racial barrier, which Bob Douglas had worked towards his life, was ultimately responsible for the fall of the New York Renaissance.


Harlem-born Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote On the Shoulders of Giants with Raymond Obstfeld in 2007 . My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance . The book tells the story of the basketball team and the now demolished Harlem Renaissance Ballroom . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was also the producer of the documentary film of the same name.


Hall of Famers

In addition to the team as a whole, six members of the New York Renaissance have been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as individuals .

Other major players

See also

Web links


  • Robert W. Peterson: Cages to Jump Shots. Pro Basketball's Early Years. Lincoln / London 2002: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8772-0
  • Susan J. Bayl: Smilin 'Bob Douglas and the Renaissance Big Five in: Separate Games. African American Sport behind the Walls of Segregation. edited by David K. Wiggins and Ryan A. Swanson. Fayetteville, 2016: The University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 978-1-68226-017-3 (pages 19-36, in English).

Individual evidence

  1. ^ NN: Early Racial Inclusion Puts Wisconsin On Pro Basketball Map. On: Black Fives Foundation website; Washington, DC, February 19, 2008. Retrieved January 18, 2018 (in English).
  2. Ric Roberts: Bears May Be Caught In Cage Trap. Bigwigs of Basketball Are Trying to Squeeze DC Court Huskies. From: The Pittsburgh Courier; Pittsburgh, PA, January 22, 1944 (page 14).
  3. Douglas Stark: Wartime Basketball. The Emergence of a National Sport during World War II. Lincoln / London 2016: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803245280 (pages 317-320, in English).
  4. ^ Ron Thomas: They cleared the Lane. From: They cleared the Lane. The NBA's Black Pioneers. Lincoln / London 2001: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803245280 , quoted from: HoopsHype website; May 4, 2004. Retrieved in archived form on February 24, 2018.
  5. ^ Robert Siegel: The Harlem Renaissance, On and Off the Court (including excerpt from the book). On: NPR website; Washington, DC, January 30, 2007. Retrieved January 18, 2018 (in English).
  6. (AP agency report): Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Telling The Story Of The Harlem Renaissance. On: CBS Local website; New York, April 3, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2018 (in English).