In celebration of Black History Month, the Barclays Center will be honoring the legacy of Brooklyn’s African American basketball legacy with a new exhibit. The main concourse will host six large-scale photographs of the Black Fives, a league of groundbreaking basketball teams.
Early basketball teams were known as “fives,” a reference to the game’s five starting players. Like all organized sports of the day, basketball was segregated and in 1904, the Black Fives provided Blacks the opportunity to play the emerging game. Teams were sponsored by local churches, civic and social organizations; HBCUs such as Howard University and Lincoln University had their own Black Fives squads as well. Games were often played in concert venues during events advertised as “Basket Ball and Dance.” Each year, teams from across the country battled for the right to be named “Colored Basketball World’s Champions.” Before the integration of the National Basketball Association and the now-defunct National Basketball League, the Black Fives teams were pivotal to the development of African-American basketball.
The Smart Set Athletic Club, Brooklyn’s own Black Fives team, was established in 1906 as the first independent, formally organized African-American basketball team; they are featured in the Barclays exhibit, as are their female counterparts—the Spartan Girls Athletic Club—and the Manhattan-based New York Girls team. The Black Fives foundation, founded by historian/author Claude Johnson and descendants of the historic team celebrated the exhibit’s unveiling recently at a community event. Johnson and the Black Fives were also honored at a Brooklyn Nets game, where John Rhea, President of the New York City Housing Authority formally proclaimed February 10, 2013, as “Black Fives Day” in the City of New York on behalf of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was unable to attend.
Brooklyn Nets General Manager Billy King presented Johnson with the “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things Award” in honor of his tireless efforts in conducting research about the Black Fives and cultivating a network of the players’ descendants.
“Barclays Center is a crossroads for Brooklyn, and honoring the Black Fives is a great way to bring sports, Brooklyn’s history, and our community together in a meaningful way,” said Bruce Ratner, developer and majority owner of Barclays Center. “As professional basketball once again comes to life in Brooklyn, it’s a perfect moment to recognize the men and women who showed incredible commitment to the sport by being among the borough’s first players.”