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This Day In History: February 13th
During a time when basketball teams were segregated, one all Black team managed to take the sports world by storm and dominate the game for more than a decade. That team was the New York Renaissance, better known as The Rens.
Basketball’s first Black-owned team with an all-Black roster was created on February 13, 1923, by Robert L. Douglas, a Caribbean-born entrepreneur, and based in Harlem, New York. Douglas first recognized his love for basketball after a co-worker introduced him to the sport. He organized an amateur team that he played with until deciding to stop and manage the team full-time.
After joining forces with William Roach, the owner of the New Renaissance Ballroom and Casino and a real estate developer, Douglas was able to get the funding he needed to start a professional team. The team was named the New York Renaissance which doubled as advertising for Roach’s ballroom and casino. Roach also received a portion of the team’s ticket sales in exchange for a space to practice and hold games.
The team consisted of players such as William “Pop” Gates and Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, who later became Hall of Fame inductees. In addition to owning the team, Douglas served as the coach and led them to championship victory. The team played its first game in November of 1923 against an all-white team and won. Despite hesitations about the team’s profitability and small home court, the Rens continuously proved that they were a powerhouse.
As the team’s popularity rose, they were able to sell out more games. The Rens also developed a reputation for being fierce competitors on the court especially after winning 88 consecutive games during the 1932-33 season. In 1939 the Rens made history and won the first World Professional Basketball tournament.
Ten years after winning the championship, the team played its final game in 1949. The efforts of the New York Renaissance were recognized in 1963 with their induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Coach Douglas was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 1972.
Their story was documented by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the film, On the Shoulders of Giants, in 2011. The legacy of the team continues on through the youth who are members of the New York Renaissance Basketball Association that was established in 2012.