Remembering Black League Basketball?
Remember Black League Basketball? It was, according to Canada’s SLAM! Sports, a professional basketball league that existed between 1920 and 1940, and Toronto Raptors forward Eric Williams is marketing “throwback clothing” to raise awareness of the league.
His clothing firm, Eric Williams Apparel, will be marketing a number of BLB jackets and shirts, including a jacket with the crests of the 12 teams from the defunct league, including the Detroit Engineers, Brownsville Bears, Baltimore Crabs, Camden Earls, Harlem Knights, Newark Eagles, West Philly Dancers, Chicago SouthSiders, Cleveland Ebonies, Gary Steelmen, Roxbury Patriots and the Washington Reps.
You might be forgiven for not remembering the league, even if you’re in your older years. That’s because it didn’t exist. SLAM! Sports’ obviously unresearched report notwithstanding, it turns out that there was never a black basketball league, much less one that operated for 20 years. The Toronto Star set the record straight.
The league and teams, say several basketball historians, never existed.
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“It’s truly an affront to someone who actually had to go to the back of the diner to eat,” adds [former NBA employee Claude] Johnson, a historian of black baseball who says he belongs to the North American Society of Sport History and the Association of Professional Basketball Researchers.
Matt Zeysing, a historian at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., has studied black sports history in the U.S., and he’s equally certain.
“We did a big exhibition four or five years ago on basketball and integration and we’ve never come across that league,” [Basketball Hall of Fame historian Matt] Zeysing told the Star.
“We’ve done a lot of research on black basketball history and we haven’t heard of it.”
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“There’s never been a black African-American or Negro Basketball League,” [Basketball historian Susan Rayl] said. “They never existed.”
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Rayl, an associate professor of sport history at State University of New York-Cortland, did her PhD at Penn State on the all-black New York Rens touring team and has done extensive research on early 20th-century black basketball.
“Somebody might have put together a team like one of those for a night to play the Rens or a team in the NBL (National Basketball League). They’d get guys together and play for money and divide the profits. But an organized league? No.”
For his part, Williams is reportedly at a loss to explain where he got the idea for clothing to commemorate a league that apparently never was.