1972: Bob Douglas Becomes The First Black Man Inducted Into Basketball Hall Of Fame
With thousands of wins under his belt and decades of experience as owner and coach of one of the most important and earliest black basketball teams, Bob Douglas was finally enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972. Throughout his career he pushed through Jim Crow laws to lead the New York Renaissance basketball team across the country to play whatever teams wanted to face them. He fought racial discrimination side by side with his players and while doing so he inspired generations of players that followed. It’s very likely that the NBA wouldn’t be the sports organization that we know today without him.
Douglas hails from the West Indies
Born in St. Kitts in the West Indies in 1882, Bob Douglas moved to New York City early in his life, and while the Caribbean may seem the last place you’d look for a basketball star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar notes that it’s exactly where you want to go if you’re tracing basketball’s roots. He explained:
The West Indies are part and parcel of North America. Bob Douglas is certainly a major part of the evolution of the only sport that was invented in America.
His love of sports and knowledge that the young men of New York needed something to do to get out of their humdrum lives and make something of themselves.
He started his first team at 25
Douglas was barely older than most college graduates when he started his first basketball team. Scratch that, his first two basketball teams. The teams were both from Harlem, the Spartan Braves and Spartan Hornets played multiple teams across New York from 1919 to 1923, although neither group was able to make any money because they weren’t professionals. Douglas changed that. In 1923 he struck up a deal with the Renaissance Casino in Harlem and created the Renaissance in order to provide publicity for the business while allowing him to coach a professional team. Philadelphia 76ers executive adviser Sonny Hill explained:
They became the most famous basketball team of its era. Coach John Wooden said to me on a number of occasions that the greatest team he’s ever seen was the Harlem Renaissance. That team was made up of New York and Philadelphia basketball players. Coach Wooden is in the hall of fame [as a player and a coach]. For him to give up accolades like that shows how great they were as a team.
Douglas and his team constantly faced racism
From 1929 through 1949 Douglas acted as coach and owner for the New York Renaissance, placing him and his team directly in the middle of one of the most overtly racist eras in America. The team mostly played through the midwest, but no matter where they were they were often tasked with eating and sleeping on their bus because they weren’t allowed in whites only establishments. While playing a series of games against the Celtics the two teams traveled together and witnessed riots during their games. Richard Lapchick, director of the DeVos Sport Business Management at the University of Central Florida and son of Celtics hall of famer Joe Lapchick, explained:
My dad learned about racism in America through the rivalry they had with the Rens. There were three times that they left in tandem going to wherever they were going to play the next day, the Celtics behind the Rens’ bus, watching the owner of the gas station come out with a rifle because he wasn’t about to serve gas from their lily-white pumps to a group of blacks on a bus. There were riots that took place during three of the games, all in the Midwest and not in the South. They had to play games with a net around the court to keep spectators from storming the court.
He was ahead of his time
It’s clear that Douglas deserves to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame not only because he has so many wins, but because he envisioned a version of the sport that’s close to what it is today long before anyone believed in a racially diverse sports organization. His belief in this concept that was far out to so many people gave hope not only to his players but to sports fans who wanted to watch the best people play against one another regardless of their color or where they’re from. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said:
Bob Douglas was the first black man to own a basketball team. Not just any team, but the greatest team of the time. The early rivalry with the Original Celtics and Harlem Globetrotters gave basketball exciting teams to support. The possibilities for business success as owners of professional sports franchises is the heart of Bob Douglas’ story. Douglas was ahead of his time because as a black man, he was not allowed to own a major sports franchise. He and his team faced so many challenges, mostly with racism against his team. His courage in keeping the team together while at the same time running his club places him ahead of this time.
Douglas inspired every player and coach that followed him
In his less than 20 year career as a professional coach and owner Douglas lead the Rens to a 2,318-381 record, and a an 88-game winning streak during the 1932-33 season. That kind of record is absolutely insane and it’s rare that you see it today. His dedication to the game gave everyone who loves basketball a reason to play harder, faster, and stronger. In an era where NBA players and coaches routinely have multi-million dollar contracts, it’s important to remember that Douglas and guys like him laid the groundwork for the current era of basketball. This basketball pioneer is the reason why we have such a diverse league of talent in the 21st century.
In 1972 Douglas was one of the most important men in the Hall of Fame
When Douglas was put into the basketball hall of fame he was enshrined along with five other men, but Douglas was the only African American to enter in this era. Douglas went in with one of the organizers of the National Basketball Association as well as the executive secretary of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and consultant to N.B.A. Commissioner Walter Kennedy. It’s safe to say that while all of those guys put in the work it’s Douglas who created the most change in the world of basketball.