Every N.B.A. All Star Game reminds me of an African American basketball team from 1910 called the New York All Stars. They were the first blacks to play basketball for pay.
Every N.B.A. All Star Game reminds me of an African American basketball team from 1910 called the New York All Stars.
The All Stars were the first all-black ballers that played basketball for pay.
The 1910 New York All Stars.
I know, you’re thinking, so what? Right?
But consider that in its early years, playing basketball for pay was widely considered a taboo by whites as well as blacks.
The inventors of the game — high-collared Victorian-era thinkers — condemned even the well-established white professional basketball leagues.
Luther Gulick, who was basketball inventor James Naismith’s boss, warned that professionalism “has ruined every branch of athletics to which it has come.” When money becomes involved in sport, he cautioned, “it degenerates with most tremendous speed.”
Black basketball pioneer Edwin Henderson echoed that view in this 1910 opinion:
Honest professional sport does exist, but, as a rule, when men put all their wits and strength into a contest to earn a livelihood, the ethics of the game usually is lowered; fair play generally is the lookout of the officials and not of the players; mean and unfair tactics are resorted to; spectators are hoodwinked; laying down, double-crossing and faking take the place of clean playing, and fairness of player to player and players to public become a secondary consideration.
Major A. Hart
Professionalism in basketball was considered a sin.
That’s because basketball was born strictly in a religious context, within the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.), to help keep young men away from alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, sex, and other tempting vices.
Basketball’s original purpose was to balance mind, body, and spirit.
So in 1910 when a black man named Major A. Hart formed a new pay-for-play African American basketball team called the New York All Stars, he was quickly attacked. By the Negro press! Other local amateur basketball clubs were outraged.
Major Hart was a former U.S. Army rifleman who’d served in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. He had a long view on things.
But his vision for blacks in basketball was bigger than what most Negroes dared.
He was ahead of his time.
“That this game has taken a firm hold of our people,” wrote Hart, “has been demonstrated beyond a doubt.”
The All Stars had all the best players and were ready to dominate black basketball in New York City.
The lineup included former St. Christopher star Charles Bradford, who also played pro baseball for the Pittsburgh Colored Giants, as well as former Smart Set Athletic Club stars Ferdinand Accooe and Charles Scottron.
However, led by the strongly anti-pro St. Christopher Club, New York City’s amateur teams boycotted the All Stars, initially forcing Hart to take his club on the road.
He later responded by inviting big ticket out of town teams to Manhattan. Teams like Howard University, and the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Five from Fort Ethan Allen in Vermont, the Army’s black basketball champions.
Hart scheduled All Star games at the Manhattan Casino in Harlem, an arena that would soon become the America’s mecca of black basketball.
“Games are being negotiated with teams from Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other places,” Hart promoted, “and the lovers of the game will be treated to some fine contests during the coming season.”
For a while, Negro sportswriters began to warm up.
However, Hart was unable to change negative public opinion about his move, and eventually the All Stars lost momentum, finally disbanding after the 1912-13 season.
Although his efforts were ahead of their time and failed, Major Hart’s flirt with professionalism inspired a new wave of black basketball pioneers like Cumberland Posey, Will Anthony Madden, and Bob Douglas.
Douglas formed his fully professional New York Renaissance Five in 1923. The Rens were enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1963.
So, professional basketball players, N.B.A. All Stars, listen up.
They still might call you greedy sinners. But thanks to Major Hart and the New York All Stars at least it’s not because you all earn money playing the sport you love.