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Robert Fay

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., in Harlem, New York. Raised in a middle-class household and educated at Catholic schools in Manhattan, the young Alcindor was introduced to Basketball at age nine and played competitively throughout elementary and high school. Alcindor was six feet eight inches (2.05 meters) tall by the time he was fourteen years old and became a star center for Power Memorial Academy, leading the high school to two city championships. He continued his dominant play at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he led the university's team to three consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association championships. He lost only two games in his college career. An outspoken political activist who was influenced by the Black Power Movement, Alcindor changed his name in 1971 after converting to Islam. A popular NBA star from 1969 to 1989 Abdul Jabbar thwarted opponents ...

Article

Marty Dobrow

basketball player, was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, the son of Ferdinand Lewis “Al” Alcindor, a police officer with the New York Transit Authority, and Cora Alcindor, a department-store price checker. The almost thirteen-pound baby arrived in Harlem one day after the major league debut of Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn; as with Robinson, fiercely competitive athletics and the struggle against racial injustice would define much of his life.

From a young age Alcindor was introspective and intense He had an artistic sensibility drawn in part from his father a stern and silent cop who played jazz trombone and held a degree from Juilliard An only child in a strictly Catholic household he moved from Harlem at age three to the Dyckman Street projects on the northern tip of Manhattan a racially mixed middle class community In third grade he was startled to see a class photo that featured him not ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

In December 1891 Canadian-American physical education teacher James Naismith, of the School for Christian Workers (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, was instructed to invent a new game to entertain the school's athletes during the winter season. With an ordinary soccer ball, Naismith assembled his class of eighteen young men, appointed captains of two nine-player teams, and introduced them to the game of Basket Ball (then two words).

Since its creation, and particularly since African Americans entered the ranks of professional players in the 1950s, basketball has become one of the most popular and exciting games in the world. Black players in the National Basketball Association (NBA), including Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal, have helped to transform the game into a billion-dollar industry. African American women such as Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie have expanded the game beyond its traditional male purview and the long standing tradition ...

Article

Donald Roe

Officials at the International Young Men's Christian Training School (now Springfield College) in Massachusetts asked Dr. James Naismith, a physical education teacher, to come up with an indoor activity for winter that would reduce rowdy behavior among its students, as well as keep them in shape during the winter. As a result, in 1891 Naismith created basketball as an indoor sport. It did not take long for basketball to become popular. Although it is not known exactly when African Americans began playing basketball, it is probable that the sport had already reached many black communities in the early 1900s, especially in the YMCAs, YWCAs, and athletic clubs in the North. Several blacks—most notably Dr. Edwin B. Henderson the chief of physical education in the District of Columbia for what was then called the Colored School Division were active at the turn of the twentieth century in making basketball ...

Article

Dawn Herd-Clark

A version of this article originally appeared in Black Women in America, 2nd ed.

Basketball was invented in 1891 by a Canadian-American physical education instructor named James Naismith at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Springfield, Massachusetts, in response to a call to develop a sport that young men could participate in during the cold New England winter months. Originally called “basket ball,” the game evolved into one of the most popular sports in the world for both men and women. In the early twenty-first century, there were professional leagues for both male and female basketball players throughout the world. For more than a century, the only thing that stood between black women and success in basketball was opportunity. When that opportunity came in 1996, with the formation of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), they proved ready for the challenge.

Article

Steven A. Riess

James Naismith, an instructor at the YMCA Training School at Springfield College in Massachusetts, invented basketball in 1891 as an indoor winter game. The object was to throw a soccer ball into an elevated peach basket (the “goal”). Players could not run with the ball (which led to dribbling) and received a “foul” for rule violations. Play resumed after each goal with a “jump ball.” By 1895, field goals were two points and foul shots one, and backboards were added to prevent fans from interfering with shots. Two years later the number of players on a team was fixed at five. They wore knee pads because play was rough, with frequent fights over balls that went out of bounds. Cages were built around the court to keep the ball in play and prevent fan interference.

Basketball quickly gained popularity across the nation At YMCAs settlement houses and school ...

Article

Kyle Partyka

professional basketball player, was born John L. Beaty Jr. in Hillister, Texas, the son of John L. (Zelmo) Beaty Sr. and Etheatta Beaty, a homemaker. Along with his sister, Bernice Beaty, he was raised in the small town of Hillister by his mother; his father died when Beaty was a child. Zelmo attended the segregated Scott High School in Woodville, Texas, where he was recruited in basketball by Prairie View A&M, an historically black college northwest of Houston. After a standout college career, he graduated and was drafted third in the National Basketball Association by the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks in 1962. In 1963 Beaty married his wife, Annie, whom he had met at Prairie View.

Beaty played at the center position and stood at 6 feet 9 inches, weighing 235 pounds. He played seven seasons with the Hawks, winning Rookie of the Year in 1963 ...

Article

Thomas Aiello

basketball player. David Bing was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where he attended Spingarn High School. He starred on the Spingarn basketball team, earning All-Metro honors and in 1962 being named a Parade All-American. That success drew the attention of the University of Michigan and the University of California at Los Angeles, but Bing instead chose to attend Syracuse University, reasoning that he would be more successful at a basketball program with a lower profile. He was correct. In three of his four seasons at Syracuse, Bing led the team in scoring, averaging more than twenty points a game. In his senior year (1966) Bing averaged 28.4 points a game—fifth highest in the country—and was named an All-American. Meanwhile he turned the perennially struggling Syracuse into a winning program. Professional scouts noticed, and in 1966 the Detroit Pistons drafted Bing in the first round of ...

Article

John Gennari

Wilt Chamberlain revolutionized the game of Basketball, inspiring rule changes and creating a premium role for the big-scoring and rebounding center. Over fourteen seasons in the NBA, “Wilt the Stilt”—or, as he preferred, “The Big Dipper”—averaged 30.1 points a game, second only to Michael Jordan in career scoring average. In the 1961–1962 season, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points a game. He scored 100 points in a single game against the New York Knickerbockers, played on March 2, 1963, in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

He was born Wilton Norman Chamberlain in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Chamberlain, a custodian, and Olivia Chamberlain a domestic worker and laundress Heralded as the best prep player in the nation Chamberlain led his Overbrook High School team to a 58 3 record and two city championships The Philadelphia Warriors claimed future draft rights to Chamberlain upon his ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

basketball player, was born Wilton Norman Chamberlain in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the sixth of nine surviving children born to William Chamberlain, a janitor and handyman, and Olivia Ruth Chamberlain, a domestic maid and cook. Although Chamberlain claimed in his 1973 autobiography that he was born measuring twenty-nine inches in length, much above average, he later stated that at birth “there was absolutely nothing special about me. I was a little over twenty-two inches long” (Chamberlain, 1991, 25). At any rate, young Wilton was always the tallest in his grade school classes and became known as the “Big Dipper” or “Dip,” both of which he preferred to “Wilt the Stilt,” a nickname later coined by a journalist. He was also among the most athletic students, participating as a nine-year-old in 1946 in the famed Penn Relays near his West Philadelphia home.When he entered Overbrook High School in 1951 ...

Article

Rachelle Gold

basketball player. A legendary basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain was a gifted offensive shooter who scored and rebounded prolifically. In the 1961–1962 season, averaging 50 points a game, he became the first and only National Basketball Association (NBA) athlete ever to score 4,000 points in a season. Through his fourteen-year playing career Chamberlain—a center who was seven feet one inch tall—set NBA single-game records for the most points (100), the most consecutive field goals, and the most rebounds. Not only was he the NBA scoring leader for seven years in a row, but he also was the league's top rebounder in 11 out of his 14 seasons. Ultimately Chamberlain scored 31,419 points in his career.

Born in Philadelphia, Wilton Norman Chamberlain was one of nine children born to and raised by William a welder and a janitor and Olivia a domestic worker Although at first Chamberlain was interested in ...

Article

Luckett V. Davis

Conn, Billy (08 October 1917–29 May 1993), world light-heavyweight boxing champion, was born William David Conn in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. He was the oldest son of William Robert Conn, a steamfitter, and Irish-born Margaret McFarland Conn. Billy attended Sacred Heart Parochial School but his education ended with the fifth grade. He took up boxing after his father asked a friend, former boxer Johnny Ray, to teach his son how to defend himself. Ray soon found the boy to be an apt pupil and became his manager. Billy Conn had his first professional fight in 1934 at age sixteen, never having boxed as an amateur.

For the first year and a half of his career Conn did not distinguish himself winning only eleven fights out of nineteen Many of his bouts were held in small towns and cities in eastern Pennsylvania and West Virginia ...

Article

During his career Julius Erving—known to fans and announcers as Dr. J—set new standards of performance in his sport and made the slam-dunk into one of the most exciting moves in professional Basketball.

Julius Winfield Erving Jr. was born in East Meadow, New York. He grew up playing basketball on New York City playgrounds and then for Roosevelt High School. He recalled, “My first [slam] dunk was at the Prospect Elementary School, where they had 8-foot baskets and 13-foot ceilings. By the time I was in ninth grade, I was dunking the regular baskets.” Erving attended the University of Massachusetts, and during his sophomore and junior years (1969–1971), he led his team in scoring in forty-six of fifty-two varsity games.

In 1971 Erving left school to join the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association (ABA). He was named rookie of the year for the 1971 ...

Article

Patrick Ewing became one of the stars of American Basketball. He was a center for the New York Knicks for fifteen years, and he played on gold-medal-winning teams in two Olympic Games.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Ewing played cricket and soccer as a youngster. In 1975 he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he first played basketball. His first organized games took place at the Achievement School, a remedial center for junior-high students where Ewing worked on his language skills. At Rindge and Latin High School, where Ewing reached his full height of 7 feet, he starred as the basketball team's center, leading the team to three consecutive state championships. By his senior year Ewing's basketball record had made him the most sought-after college recruit in the country. He chose to attend Georgetown University in part because of the good reputation of its basketball coach, John Thompson ...

Article

Born and raised in Paducah, Kentucky, Clarence Gaines attended Morgan State College near Baltimore, Maryland, where he played football and basketball. He graduated in 1945 with a B.S. degree in chemistry. Intent on becoming a dentist, he accepted a position as a teacher and assistant coach at Winston-Salem State University (then Winston-Salem Teachers College) in North Carolina, planning to stay only one year.

The athletic director left the following year, and Gaines took over the job. He coached football, basketball, boxing, and tennis. As Gaines told an interviewer for The New York Times in 1983, coaching at Winston-Salem, with its tiny budget, forced him to take on many tasks. “I was the coach, the manager, statistician, the janitor and everything else.” In addition, he earned a master's degree in physical education in 1950 by attending Columbia University in New York City during the summers.

Gaines decided to ...

Article

Aaron Myers

The Harlem Globetrotters Basketball team is known around the world for performances that combine highly skilled playing with comedy. Over the years, the team and its players have also raised funds and contributed time to many public service and community programs, from the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund to youth basketball camps.

Before the integration of professional basketball in the post-World War II era, the Harlem Globetrotters, named for the historic black neighborhood in New York City, were considered one of the best basketball teams in the world. Founded as the Savoy Big Five, the team was renamed by Abe Saperstein, who coined the moniker as a marketing gimmick and coached the team from 1926 until his death in 1966. The Harlem Globetrotters played their first game in 1927 in Hinckley Illinois They wore red white and blue uniforms stitched in the tailor shop of Saperstein ...

Article

Daniel Donaghy

The Harlem Globetrotters is a traveling basketball team that has entertained crowds since the 1920s by combining athleticism, comedy, and showmanship. Although the exact date when the team was formed is unclear, it is safe to say that it was formed in the mid-1920s on the South Side of Chicago, where the players lived, and that most of the first team members attended Wendell Phillips High School. The team was formed at the peak of the Harlem Renaissance––more broadly known as the New Negro movement––a cultural, intellectual, political, and artistic explosion happening in northern cities across the country but centered on Harlem, New York City, which was the country's largest and most vibrant African American community at the time.

When the Savoy Ballroom opened in Chicago in November 1927 a basketball team that called itself the Savoy Big Five was hired to put on shows and play exhibitions before ...

Article

In 2000 the Basketball periodical Slam Magazine named William Randolph “Sonny” Hill, Jr. the “Mayor of Basketball” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was selected over a host of hoops legends associated with the city, including Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, and Allen Iverson. Although Hill never played in the National Basketball Association, his influence in the Delaware Valley extends well beyond that of any NBA star.

Hill was born and raised in Philadelphia. After graduating from the city's Northeast High School in 1955, he attended Central State College. In 1960 Hill took a job at the Lit Brothers warehouse in Philadelphia. He soon became involved in union work, and served as an officer for Warehouse Employees Teamsters Local 169 for many years.

After leaving college Hill joined the semipro Eastern Basketball League, where the five-foot-nine-inch guard was known for his flashy play. In 1960 looking to ...

Article

Maud C. Mundava

basketball player and coach, actor, and author Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr and known early on as Lew he was a very big baby about 13 pounds and 22 inches He grew up in a racially mixed middle class neighborhood in Manhattan as the only child of Al Alcindor and Cora Alcindor Al Alcindor was originally from Trinidad and he was a fairly successful jazz musician and a New York City Transit Authority police officer Jabbar grew up a Catholic and attended St Jude s Elementary School and a boys only Catholic school Power Memorial Academy He was a shy and withdrawn child because he was taller than most of the kids his age but he showed a lot of determination in pursuit of excellence He always wanted to be the best As a result of his values and upbringing Jabbar was well spoken stayed out of ...

Article

Born in Lansing, Michigan, Earvin Johnson acquired the nickname Magic after a high school Basketball game in which he scored 36 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, and made 16 assists. At Michigan State University, the 2.1 m (6 ft, 9 in) Johnson helped the Spartans, the university team, win the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in 1979.

Johnson left college after his second year (1979) to join the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He helped lead the Lakers to five NBA championships (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988). Johnson was named the NBA's most valuable player three times (1987, 1989, and 1990). He played in many All-Star games and, at the time of his retirement, held the NBA record for assists (9921 Johnson helped the Lakers become one of the ...