When the Dayton Rens joined the National
Basketball League (NBL) for the 1948-49 season, they become the first and only all-black
team to play in a white league. This milestone came just one year after Jackie Robinson,
playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, broke the color barrier in major league baseball.
For the Rens, however, this milestone would be the only
highlight of a season, in which they finished in last place with a record of 16-43. Sadly,
the team and the NBL would no longer exist at the end of the season and thus came to an
end one of the most successful basketball teams in the history of the sport.
The Dayton Rens, formerly the New York Renaissance, or
Rens, moved to Dayton in the middle of the NBL season to replace the Detroit Vagabond
Kings, who went out of existence on December 17, 1948. The Rens inherited the Kings' 2-17
record. The Dayton Rens compiled a 14-26 record, ending the season with an overall record
While not all that successful in their one year in the NBL,
the Rens had been a widely successful and popular barnstorming team during the 1920's and
1930's. The Rens had traveled across the Northeast and Midwest of the United States,
attracting crowds as large as 15,000 to watch their games. As such, the NBL invited the
Rens in hopes of bolstering a league that was slowly fading away faced with direct
competition from the newly formed National Basketball Association (NBA). Four of the more
popular NBL teams--the Minneapolis Lakers, the Fort Wayne Pistons, the Rochester Royals,
and the Indianapolis Kautskys -had moved to the NBA prior to the start of the 1948-49
season. The NBL needed a popular team and so chose the New York Rens.
The choice to invite an all-black team was not all that
difficult given that the NBL had been integrated almost from its inception. The NBL had
come into existence on the eve of World War II. With the entry of the United States into
World War II and the drafting of many of its white players into the armed forces, the NBL
sought out African Americans to fill the vacancies on its teams. For the 1942-43 season,
the NBL integrated when 10 black players joined two of its teams, the Toledo Jim White
Chevrolets and the Chicago Studebakers. Like the All-American Girls Professional Baseball
League (1943-1954), the integration of the African-American into the sport of professional
basketball was conducted to shore up existing teams and franchises.
Thus, a history and tradition of African Americans playing
in the NBL existed when the New York Rens were invited into the league. However, by the
time the Rens moved to Dayton in 1948, they were no longer same dominant team that had
existed in the 1920's and 1930's. While William "Pop" Gates, the Rens'
player/coach, remained with the team, many of its better players had either retired or
signed with other teams.
Gone were "Wee" Willie Smith, Clarence
"Fat" Jenkins, and Charles "Tarzan" Cooper-players whose style of
play, based on speed, short crisp passes, and relentless defense, had made the New York
Rens into a dominant basketball team of the 1920's and 1930's. During the 1932-33 regular
season, the New York Rens compiled a record of 112-8. During that season, the Rens won 88
consecutive games, a mark that has never been matched by a professional basketball team.
In 1939, the Rens became the first all-black team to win a championship game when they
beat the Oshkosh All-Stars, 34-25, in the World Basketball Tournament in Chicago.
The move to Dayton to become the first all-black team in a
white league was just another groundbreaking achievement by this team. The New York/Dayton
Rens were pioneers that set the stage for the integration of the NBA in the 1950's, which
occurred on October 31, 1950, when Earl Lloyd joined the Washington Capitols. The National
Basketball Association did not forget the New York/Dayton Rens'. In 1963, the New
York/Dayton Rens were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame ( http://www.hoophall.com/hall-of-famers/tag/new-york-renaissance
) and, in 1977, Charles "Tarzan" Cooper was inducted
) followed by William "Pop" Gates in 1989