PUMA x Black Fives
The Revolution Happened On The Court
Words: Caiza Andresen
»The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you.«
This poem/song was a wake-up call. Not the first one, but an important one. When releasing this song in 1971, the artist Gil Scott-Heron wanted the African-American people to quit being passive and to take active part in the struggle for equal rights. No information and especially no freedom will be handled to you while you’re sitting comfortably in your TV chair. The ongoing fight for justice will not be presented in the media in order to not disrupt the shady peace that soap operas and commercial suggest. But the revolution could take place on TV. It could hijack. No TV producer would dare to give black people a forum, but they could not stop the message if somebody would dare to use his place in the spotlight to give the revolution its deserved spotlight.
When the Olympic Games took place in October of 1968 in Mexico, the world was watching. And in 1968 the world, especially the US with its rich history of racial injustice, was a powder keg. Malcolm X was killed three years before, Martin Luther King was gunned down only a few months before, Black Panther Party for Self-Defense founder Huey Newton just started his prison sentence and Fred Hampton only had few months to live before his violent death at the hands of the Chicago Police. In this climate two athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both African-American, won bronze and gold medals in the 200 meter running event of the Olympics. When they took their spot at the winners podium they used their spot to televise the revolution. They received their medals shoeless. Their Puma shoes carried in hand, they waited for the spotlight they had earned with their physical performance and raised their black leather gloved fists to show the world that the revolution was here. Their black socks representing black poverty, Smith’s black scarf representing black pride, Carlos’ unzipped track top in solidarity with blue collar workers and the beads hanging around his neck as a representation of »Those lynched and killed. For everybody that no-one said a prayer for, when he was hung or tarred. For everybody who was thrown off a slave ship«. The revolution entered the spotlight. Through the backdoor, because only sports and entertainment were the fields where an African-American could get an audience.
A long time before the Olympic Games there were the Black Fives. The seed was planted a long time before. In a time when no »mixed-raced« sports teams were allowed. We are going back to the times of the Black Fives. Black Fives refers to all-black basketball teams in the US between 1904 and 1950. Starting in 1904, basketball was introduced to African Americans for the first time on a large scale. It took almost 50 years until the NBA incorporated black athletes into its teams. Black Fives teams emerged in Cities such as New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia and Cleveland. A man named Edwin Henderson, rightly referred to as the »Grandfather of Black Basketball« started introducing basketball through physical education classes, when he was working as a gym teacher in Washington, D.C.
Soon the league expanded even more and with the help of a boom in the construction of YMCAs, which gave upcoming players better training possibilities, the talent grew as well. Teams like Howard University’s Big Five and the Monticello Athletic Association from quickly worked their way up to the top. Another team that quickly made a name for themselves are the Rens, named after the Renaissance Casino and Ballroom in Harlem, where their first games took place. With their home turf being one of Harlem’s most frequented locations, soon musical acts like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Duke Ellington played before their games. With the Great Depression starting in 1929 and the decline of dance halls, The Rens went on a country wide tour to show off their talents. Players coming from the Chicago Black Fives league soon became the Harlem Globetrotters, which were often booked the same night as an all-white NBA game, because in contrast to the NBA they drew audiences.
Racial injustice in sports was not layed to rest when the NBA signed their first black players in 1950. Players still had to face racism on a daily basis. With the NBA collecting all the talent, the era of the Black Fives came to an end. Remaining a political statement in its pure existence. A gathering of talent whose rights to compete in sports were taken from them and who took matters into their own hands by forming a league that birthed some of the greatest talents of a sport beloved around the globe.
The revolution will not be televised. That is right. But this important part of history was witnessed, inspired and has a right history that should not be forgotten. That’s why PUMA has collaborated with the Black Fives Foundation, whose purpose is to research, preserve, showcase, teach and honor the legacy of this history defining organization.
The PUMA x Black Fives collection including the new Black Fives Suede Classic is available at HHV: PUMA x Black Fives | HHV