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Tue, 02.13.1923

The Harlem Renaissance Basketball Team is Formed

*The Harlem Renaissance basketball team started on this date in 1923.  Also known as the Renaissance Big Five and as the Rens, it was an all-Black professional basketball team established by Robert "Bob" Douglas in agreement with the Renaissance Casino and Ballroom. 

The Casino and Ballroom at 138th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem was an entertainment complex including a ballroom that served as the Big Five's home court. Following each game, a dance took place. Formed before the Harlem Globetrotters, the success of the Rens shifted the focus of Black basketball to professional teams. Initially, the Rens played mostly in Harlem, but by the end of the 1920s, as attendance began to dwindle, the team could be found more often playing across the country out of necessity.

The Renaissance was also the topic of the 2011 documentary On the Shoulders of Giants, written by Kareem Abdul Jabbar.   The Rens were one of the dominant basketball teams of the 1920s and 1930s. They were originally known as the Spartan Braves of Brooklyn. The team played its first game on November 3, 1923. That night the Rens played a team of white players; interracial games featured regularly on their schedule, drawing the largest crowds. In its first years, the team strove to beat the Original Celtics, the dominant white team of the time, and claim the title of world champions: in their fifth encounter, the Rens did so for the first time on December 20, 1925. 

During the 1932-33 regular season, the Rens compiled a record of 120-8 (six of those losses came at the hands of the Celtics, who the Rens did beat eight times). During that season, the Rens won 88 consecutive games, a mark never matched by a professional basketball team. In 1939, the Rens won the first professional basketball championship when they beat the Oshkosh All-Stars, a white team, 34-25, in the World Professional Basketball Tournament in Chicago. The team compiled a 2588-539 record over its history. Some of the longest-serving and best-known early Rens were Clarence "Fats" Jenkins, Pappy Ricks, Eyre Saitch, Charles "Tarzan" Cooper, Bill Yancey, and "Wee" Willie Smith.

In 1936, the Renaissance became the first top-level team to sign a four-year HBCU college star, David "Big Dave" DeJernett of Indiana Central.  The Rens disbanded in 1949 after completing the 1948/49 season of the racially integrated National Basketball League as the Dayton Rens based in Dayton, Ohio. That was also the final season for the NBL, which merged with the all-white Basketball Association of America to form the also (initially) all-white National Basketball Association.  

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I ply with all the cunning of my art this little thing, and with consummate care I fashion it-so that when I depart, Those who come after me shall... THE CRAFTSMAN by Marcus B. Christian.
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