William ‘Dolly’ King
As a scoring threat Dolly can hold his own with the top courtsters in the National circuit. His real value to the team, however, is his floor work. There he is beyond reproach.
– Rochester Royals yearbook, 1946
Cocky, egotistical, self-assured and gifted — Dolly had no time for the black man’s impedimenta.
– The Pittsburgh Courier, 1969
Harlem Yankees, New York Renaissance, Grumman Wildcats, Washington Bears, Dayton Rens, Rochester Royals
Died: 1969 King was a star in football, basketball, and baseball at Alexander Hamilton High School in New York City, before starring in all three sports at Long Island University (L.I.U.). He was the captain of that school’s basketball team under legendary coach Clair Bee.
As a senior, King left L.I.U.’s varsity basketball team in the middle of its 1941 undefeated season to play professionally.
He first created his own pro team, the Long Island Blackbirds, but soon joined the Harlem Yankees after its manager convinced him that organizing a team mid-season was much tougher than it seems.
His teammates on the Harlem Yankees included future New York Renaissance players Charlie Isles, John Isaacs, Lew Badger, “Tarzan” Cooper, and Benny Garrett.
A few weeks later those players and King all moved up to the Rens (for whom the Yankees were a “farm team”) and traveled with the team to Cleveland to compete in the Rosenblum Tournament and then to 1941 Chicago for the World Pro Basketball Tournament.
L.I.U. went on to win the 1941 National Invitation Tournament (N.I.T.), which was the collegiate championship prior to the existence of the N.C.A.A. Tournament.
King surely would have finished at L.I.U. and been drafted by the N.B.L. were it not for the whites-only policy employed there and in other racially segregated leagues.
By the time the N.B.A. was formed in 1949, King was past his prime.
Today he is enshrined today in the L.I.U. Sports Hall of Fame.
King also played professional basketball with the Harlem Yankees, Grumman Wildcats, and Washington Bears.
While with the Bears, he led the team to win the championship title in the 1943 World Pro Basketball Tournament.
He signed with the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League (N.B.L.) in 1946, becoming the first African American to join the league during its post-World War II period. The N.B.L. was a predecessor to the National Basketball Association.
King also played professional football with the Long Island Indians and pro baseball with the Homestead Grays.
Later, he was a member of the all-black Dayton Rens team that joined the N.B.L. in 1948.
After his playing career, King became a prominent basketball referee, baseball umpire, recreational director, and community leader in Harlem.
He died of a heart attack in 1969.
Please see these Black Fives Blog articles for more on William “Dolly” King.