Brooklyn’s Secret African-American Basketball History

Friday, February 08, 2013

The "Smart Set Athletic Club," one of the so-called "Black Five" early basketball teams based in Brooklyn (Black Fives)

This live interview with Claude Johnson originally aired on February 8, 2013. An edited version was aired on July 5, 2013 as part of a special episode of The Brian Lehrer Show. 

When you think "black pioneering athlete" and "Brooklyn" you likely think Jackie Robinson. But Brooklyn played a role in integrating basketball too. Claude Johnson amateur historian researching the "Black Fives" teams -- to be honored at a ceremony Sunday at the Barclays Center -- discusses the early history of basketball in the area.

Comments [6]

Davey from Highland Park, NJ

@laura miller
Much the same story of my grandfather, George Trice (#7 in the Smart-Set photo). He stood a few inches shorter than my grandma Trice, and she was 5'3" at most.

Does anyone know where the "old rules" and major differences, are shown? My daughter told me the baskets were much higher. I have also heard that two defenders were forced to stay backcourt so the play was 5v3 favoring the offense.

Thank you Claude! - David Younge

Feb. 09 2013 03:22 PM
kevin from ULS

john from the office- do you ever look in a mirror and take on your own hang ups? you love to bitch about others. or should i say, "the other"..

Feb. 08 2013 04:14 PM
laura miller from North Bergen, NJ

Let us not forget the ladies: My grandmother, Reba McClain, broke the color bar on the NYU women's basketball team, the Violets, in the mid1920s. Her family had migrated from the south to Harlem when she was a teenager. She had been accepted to NYU but then rejected when they realized she was African American (she was light skinned and had reddish-brown hair). When her high school coach got appointed to NYU, he helped her regain admission. She was an all around athlete as well as managed a straight A average. She went on to work for the NYC Parks Dept. for some 43 years. The funniest part of the story? She was barely 5'2" if that! Take that, Lisa Leslie.

Feb. 08 2013 01:05 PM
clarissa from NYC

Right. Because grown men who chase balls for money and other pro atheletes do not get enought admiration in this world.

Try teaching kids to think of sports as just fun, not a manner of pride and honor.

How about math & engineering superstars for black kids now? A new world!

Feb. 08 2013 11:56 AM
john from office

The photo shows men who look dignified and proud. The modern image of the NBA, the tattoos and the "attitude" . I am glad they imposed a dresscode on the teams, they looked like hoodlums prior to the dress code.

Feb. 08 2013 11:08 AM

Congrats Claude -

We appreciate your efforts of ensuring that "Black Fives" and many others who aren't recognized remain part of our History -



Feb. 08 2013 10:18 AM

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