Before the integration of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1950, black people who desired to play basketball were all but excluded from the sport. They were not allowed to play on white teams or in white-owned gyms. Church basements, dance ballrooms and various meeting spaces became the setting for games during that time.
Consequently, all-black basketball teams were formed:
Teams made up entirely of African American players were often known as “colored quints,” “Negro cagers,” or “black fives.”
The name Black Fives stuck and went on to become associated with the time period of 1904–1950 when all black basketball teams created their own place in the sport. Not long after that black women also decided to get in on the action.
In 1910, the New York Girls formed in Manhattan. They were one of the first all black women’s basketball teams. The women’s basketball teams were often created as ‘sister teams’ to men’s basketball teams:
The New York Girls formed as a sister club to the pioneering Alpha Physical Culture Club men’s basketball team. Their rivals, the Spartan Girls of Brooklyn, were the sister team to the Smart Set Athletic Club men’s organization. It was common and maybe even encouraged for female players to marry male players on their counterpart teams.
The first recorded basketball game between two independently organized all-black women’s basketball teams, the New York Girls and the Jersey Girls, was February 26, 1910.
Soon after the New York Girls were established, came the Spartan Girls.
Teams such as the Younger Set, Chocolate Coeds, Germantown Hornets and Golden Arrows all followed the inception of the earlier teams.
Much like the difference between the WNBA and the NBA today, the rules slightly differ:
African American women’s basketball teams played using the slightly altered version of the men’s rules. Most of the time there were five players per side, but in some parts of the country, particularly in the South, six players were used, three on offense and three on defense.
This alteration in rules led to much debate but it didn’t stop these women’s teams from dominating on the court.
Were you aware of black women’s history in basketball? Did you have any relatives who played?