Celebrating a Forgotten Era in Sports History

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"THE BLACK FIVES" explores the pioneering African-American basketball teams that existed from the early 1900s through 1950, the year the National Basketball Association became racially integrated.

Soon after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams often were called "fives" in reference to their five starting players. Squads made up entirely of African-American players were referred to as "colored fives," "Negro fives," or "black fives," and the period became known as the Black Fives Era. From its amateur beginnings, dozens of all-black professional teams emerged in New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other cities with substantial African-American populations.

A collaborative partnership between the New-York Historical Society and the Black Fives Foundation, Greenwich, Conn., this exhibition is as much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball. "The Black Fives" is drawn primarily from the Foundation's collection and features artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, ephemera, and other historical materials.

Highlights include archival images of the earliest African-American basketball teams, including the Alpha Physical Culture Club, the nation's first all-black athletic club (1912); the New York Girls, the first all-black female team (1910); and team photos of the New York Renaissance (also known as the "Harlem Rens"), Smart Set Athletic Club, Harlem Globetrotters, and the Washington Bears. …