A Sports Remembrance: The Rens

Now that the Super Bowl is receding into the sports history of 2015 and after several billion calories still show wear and tear on the body, it’s time to turn attention to basketball, especially as March races toward us. College basketball fever builds to heights like the ancient tower of Babel.

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After March you have the NBA teams fighting in the playoffs to the grand finale. Fans and patrons invest a lot of time and money into their teams and favorite players.

Statistics are repeated and memorized. Juicy scoops on the players are always a tweet away.

Let’s turn our attention back several decades to the 1920s. In New York City a man had a dream of forming a professional basketball team. The man was Robert Douglas who would become known as the “Father of Black Professional Basketball”.

His dream which became reality was the New York Renaissance—Harlem Rens, the first black professional basketball team sponsored by the Renaissance Casino and Ballroom in Harlem. On the night of November 23, 1923 on their home court (the Ballroom) they played their first game against the Collegiate Five, an all-white-team.

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The Rens won 28-22. After the games the court was transformed back into the ballroom where the orchestra played and ladies and gentlemen dressed in formal wear danced and celebrated.

The Rens played their last championship game on April 11, 1948 in Chicago against the Minnesota Lakers. They lost 74-71.

Their total stats are 2,318 wins and 381 losses. http://www.luckyshow.org/basketball/Rens.htm

The owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, Abraham M. Saperstein, purchased the Rens on May 18, 1949. London-born but Chicago-raised Saperstein turned the Rens into a farm team which ended their professional status.

British West Indies born Robert Douglas would become the first African-American to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame (1972). He was the first President of the New York Pioneer AC and manager of the Renaissance Ballroom. He died on July 16, 1979 at the age of 94 in New York City.

For many young people it is difficult to image or understand racism and inequality of any form. However, these darts of oppression and suppression existed in sports for a very long time. But people like Robert Douglas did not allow these darts to corral their dreams into a side corner.

We can be thankful for those dreams. May those dreams touch every aspect of society where a person is not classified or judged by the color of their skin but by their innate talents, abilities and actions.

G. D. Williams © 2015

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References:

The Harlem Rens

http://www.theharlemrens.com/

Black Fives Foundation

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“By 1924-25 the “Rens” had won the first of many Colored Basketball World Championships and thereafter proceeded to dominate not just black basketball, but all of basketball for the next 25 years.”

NBA Encyclopedia

“The Rens were the creation of Bob Douglas, known as the “Father of Black Basketball” at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Douglas started earning that reputation at age 25, when he organized two amateur basketball teams in Harlem called the Spartan Braves and Spartan Hornets. The Braves and Hornets competed against other New York City-area teams, both black and white, from 1919 to 1923. Douglas eventually became disenchanted with amateur basketball when he wasn’t allowed to keep players who had received money from playing other sports. It marked the beginning of the end for Douglas’ association with amateur basketball and the beginning of a new era — the birth of the Rens.

“In 1923, Douglas cut a deal with the owners of Harlem’s Renaissance Casino, which opened in 1922. Douglas organized a group of black basketball players and agreed to call the team the Renaissance, providing the casino with publicity. In return, the casino allowed the team to practice and play home games at the epicenter of the “renaissance” of black artistic expression in Harlem, located at 137th Street and Seventh Avenue, during the ’20s. The Rens were another form of that expression in “New York’s Prettiest Dance Hall” — as advertised in the New York Amsterdam News — between dances and big bands, that is.

http://www.nba.com/history/encyclopedia_rens_001214.html

On The Shoulders of Giants

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http://www.cbsnews.com/news/remembering-basketballs-first-all-black-team-23-02-2011/

http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/story/2011-03-15/abdul-jabbars-film-documents-harlem-rens-who-rarely-ever-lost

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1582235/

The Renaissance Casino and Ballroom

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http://www.harlemonestop.com/organization/564/renaissance-ballroom-and-casino

http://ny.curbed.com/tags/renaissance-ballroom

Harlem by Langston Hughes

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175884

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