SI Vault
Bruce Newman
October 22, 1979
The New York Rens were a team of black basketball players who traveled across half a continent and a quarter of a century before coming to rest in the Basketball Hall of Fame. From the time somebody finally started keeping count in 1927 until the team was disbanded in 1948, the Rens won 2,318 games and lost 381, a winning percentage of .859. Almost all of those games were played on the road, against white teams and in front of hostile white crowds.
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October 22, 1979

The N.y. Rens Traveled A Long Hard Road To Basketball's Hall Of Fame

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During the 1940s the Rens received $500 in appearance money and a percentage of the gate to play exhibitions against teams from the newly formed American Basketball League, the forerunner of the National Basketball Association. In 1947 ABL owners convened in Philadelphia to discuss admitting the Rens to the all-white league.

"It was in the fall of the year that Jackie Robinson broke into major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers," said Douglas. "I'll never forget that day as long as I live. I bought a brand new Studebaker and drove down to Philadelphia in style. When I arrived, they invited me to sit in on their discussion before they voted. I remember that at one point an Italian fellow from Providence stood up and said the league could get along fine without us. Then Joe Lapchick, who was with the Knickerbockers, got up in front of his boss, Ned Irish, and said, 'I may lose my job for saying this, but I'd play against the Rens any goddam day. To me they're the best.' "

Douglas was asked to wait outside while the vote was taken, and afterward League President Ike Duffy told him that the motion had failed. "When Duffy told me they wouldn't let me in their league," Douglas said, "it took a lot out of me." The next year he turned the team over to Illidge. In 1948 the league apparently reconsidered its position and offered Illidge a spot in the ABL if he would move the team to Dayton. Illidge reluctantly agreed, and then watched $10,000 of his own money go up in smoke when the Dayton fans boycotted the Rens' games for almost the entire season. At the end of the year Illidge folded the team.

"Progress was what finally killed the Rens," says Cooper. "Jobs were coming up for blacks, and we had to think of our futures. The year after we won the world championship, I retired and took a job painting houses for $50 a week, year round. Sometimes I'd find myself leaning against that ladder, missing those days when we were flying high. But there was always the road, and I surely never did miss that. Still, it wasn't all bad. Why, I suppose if I could just run like those young fellows out there now, I'd hop right back on that bus and head for the open road again."

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