How Blacks Got into Basketball

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Photo of the New York Girls basketball team, 1910.

Before there was the NBA, there were the African American basketball leagues.

In 1904, a Washington, D.C. teacher, Edwin Bancroft "EB" Handerson introduced the game to his students and soon black teams (including the Harlem Globetrotters) spread across the country.

This overlooked history is the focus of a new show at the New York Historical Society. The memorabilia was collected over 15 years by Claude Johnson, the founder and executive director of the Black Fives Foundation, an organization that preserves the history of African Americans in the sport. On view are old balls, knee pads and a picture of the first African American female team, the New York Girls, from 1910.

Johnson, who also curated the show, said that basketball played an important role in the community. Black basketball promoters would book games and orchestras in the same hall, he said. "You use the music to bring people in, but then you also use the game to have people rally around, it was, you know, one of the first examples probably of social, social networking." 

The exhibit is on view until July 20.