Black basketball players in Ohio have had strong support from white males as far back as anyone can remember, all the way to the 1910s.
White male voters in Ohio may set up Barack Obama as our nation’s first Baller-In-Chief.
But black basketball players in Ohio have had strong support from white males as far back as anyone can remember.
Back to the 1910s, in fact.
Here is a summary of Ohio’s best African American basketball teams during the Black Fives Era.
1910s and 1920s
Cincinnati’s 9th Street Colored Y.M.C.A. and the Cleveland Owls were active in basketball by the late 1910s.
These squads played primarily against all-white teams.
The early 1920s featured the Cleveland Acmes, the 372nd Colored Infantry’s Company E “Bloody Hand” team, the Pioneer Athletic Club of Cleveland, the Springfield Colored Y, the Cedar Colored Y.M.C.A. “Oaks” of Cleveland, the Swastika Athletic Club, and the Columbus Grays. Wilberforce University, the Dunbar Flashes, and the Cincinnati Comets also formed strong teams in the mid-1920s. The Comets featured Olympic medalist DeHart Hubbard’s younger brothers, Bo and Bert.
Wilberforce was an Ohio power through the 20s and 30s, and featured many stars like future Globetrotter players Agis and Cleveland Bray.
In 1925, basketball leaders called for the formation of a National Colored Amateur Basketball League, with every player holding an official A.A.U. card certifying their amateur status. “Shall we please the public,” they asked, “or allow a few individuals who prefer to dabble with professional basketball triumph?”
In response, Cleveland’s first pro team emerged in 1925 — an all-black team called the Benjee Drugs.
In 1926 the Cleveland Elks became prominent. Mostly former Wilberforce players, they used “clever floor work” to win 13 games in a row in 1928.
The Midwestern Amateur Basketball League, composed of 8 all-black teams, 4 of them from Ohio (Cincinnati, Toledo, Columbus, and Dayton), finally got off the ground in 1927. Hubbard, the former Olympian, was elected commissioner.
In 1929, Lawrence O. Payne, an African American attorney, ran for a Cleveland city council seat in 1929 with the help of an all-black women’s basketball team he sponsored. Their uniforms had “PAYNE FOR COUNCIL” across the front. He won.
In the late ’20s and early ’30s, Hubbard formed a new team, the Cincinnati Lion Tamers. The Lion Tamers won the title of champions of Ohio by beating the Cleveland Elks in 1930.
The Slaughter Brothers’ Undertakers Five also emerged in Cleveland in the late ’30s. Featuring future Rens star Willie Smith, the Slaughters played home games at Cleveland’s old St. Clair Bath House.
In 1928, the Ciralsky Meat Packing Company of Toledo sponsored an all-black basketball team. Between 1928 and 1934, the Ciralsky Meats were 246-12. This included a victory over the world champion Original Celtics in ’34.
Their star player was Toledo native Bill Jones, who later starred for the highly successful University of Toledo teams of the late 1930s.
The Toledo Colored Y opened in 1931, the same year the New York Rens began their long association with the all-white Cleveland Rosenblums.
In 1931 the semi-pro Mi-Tee Mohawks were formed, featuring “an all-star group of Cleveland’s best performers, every player is six feet or more in height.”
The Cleveland Pennzoils, one of the strongest all-black Ohio teams ever to play. The Pennzoils were formed in the late 30s and mixed it up with the best teams of the era, including the Renaissance Five.
The Log Cabin Five of Cleveland were formed in the late ’30s, and featured future Rens and Globetrotters player Louis “Babe” Pressley as well as other former Pennzoil players.
Cleveland’s own Jesse Owens owned a touring basketball team called the Cleveland Olympians in 1937, featuring future Rens and Globetrotters player Roscoe “Duke” Cumberland. The Olympians ran past several college teams, beating Drake and DePaul.
In 1940, former Ciralsky star Bill Jones (along with another black player and fellow Ohio native Jimmy Johnson) played for the Toledo White Huts, the first racially integrated team to compete in the World Pro Basketball Tournament in Chicago.
The White Huts became the Jim White Chevrolets and dropped their black players to join the National Basketball League (N.B.L.). But in 1942 the Jim White’s turned around and broke the league’s color barrier by signing 4 black players after all: Bill Jones, Casey Jones, Al Price, and Shannie Barnett, all from Toledo or linked to “The Glass City” through prior associations.
The same year the N.B.L.’s Chicago Studebakers also signed 4 black players, all from Toledo: Sonny Boswell, Duke Cumberland, Tony Payton, and Bernie Price.
Max Rosenblum, a Jewish entrepreneur and the owner of a clothing store bearing his name, created the Rosenblum Professional Invitational Basketball Tournament in 1941. This tournament provided an opportunity for the Rens, who won the event in 1942.In 1947, the Canton Cushites, an all-black basketball team that featured Cleveland Browns star and future Football Hall of Fame member Marion Motley and Cleveland Indians star and future Baseball Hall of Fame member Larry Doby, almost signed basketball star Jackie Robinson.
In 1948, the Browns football team played exhibition basketball games featuring Motley and Otto Graham traveling throughout the Midwest. Motley had played basketball for the Canton Cushites, and Graham was a former basketball star at Northwestern.
Also in ’48, Ohio made history when the New York Rens replaced the Detroit Vagabond Kings of the National Basketball League, debuting as the new Dayton Rens and becoming the first all-black team to join a white professional basketball league.
There were many stars but among those with the most colorful names were “Wu Fang” Ward, “Peahead” Garner, “Evil” Huston, “Rock” Anderson, “Tarzan” Goolsby, “Smooth” Fountain, “Doc” Kelker, “Primo” Bryant, “Cigar” Sydney, “Choker” Grant.
“There is still an unwritten law against colored basketball players in the Big 10,” Jesse Owens observed in 1937. “But illiteracy and bigotry are slowly dying,” he said. “We have a great and progressive nation — believe me.”
I believe you, Jesse.
So do the white male voters of Ohio.
(Thanks to R. D. Lerner of the Association for Professional Basketball Research for some technical clarification involving Bill Jones and Jimmie Johnson regarding where they grew up.)