Russell Westbrook Developing Documentary on Cultural Importance of Basketball’s Black Fives Era

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LA Lakers star Russell Westbrook and his Zero World Media is currently developing a basketball documentary on the Black Fives, Deadline reports.

Westbrook, along with Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens of Propagate Content are executive producers. Claude Johnson of The Black Fives Foundation will serve as co-executive producer.

The documentary will center on the Black Fives Era, spanning from 1904, when basketball was first introduced to Black schoolchildren, to 1950, when the first Black player broke the color barrier and was drafted into the NBA

Numerous “fives,” a reference to the five starting players on a team, are credited with helping “to popularize the game around the country with high caliber talent and innovative styles of play on the courts of big cities and remote towns alike.”

Because of the racist policies that banned African-American ballplayers from gymnasiums and athletic clubs, Black Fives Era teams held games in church basements, armories, meeting halls, and dance ballrooms. The games became an oasis of Black culture as ragtime, blues, and jazz orchestras played before and after games with dancing into the night, creating the marriage of sports and Black music. 

The documentary seeks to capture “the stories of how the pioneering efforts of Black Fives Era players paved the way for the global appeal of the modern game against the backdrop of the cultural evolution of Black America itself.”

Westbrook, a student of basketball history, expressed his excitement about telling the stories of Black Fives.

“I’m excited to work with Propagate and The Black Fives Foundation on this project,” Westbrook said. “This subject is obviously very personal to me for a number of reasons. These teams helped break racial and societal barriers and paved the way for the game and the NBA as a whole. These stories deserve to be told and I’m proud of Zero World Media’s involvement.”

Silverman noted that basketball today owes a great debt to the pioneering efforts of the Black Fives and is looking forward to bringing these stories to the screen.

“Propagate is dedicated to telling culturally impactful stories that both entertain and educate,” Silverman said. “The Black Fives laid the foundation for the modern game of basketball that we know and love today. We are proud to partner on this meaningful project with Claude Johnson, Russell Westbrook, and Zero World Media.”

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