“Black Fives” Curator Speaks On New Historical Basketball Exhibit & The Legacy of The Black Fives



L+T: What will the exhibition at the New York Historical Society be comprised of?
It’s a first-ever exhibition; there’s never been an exhibition as far as we know on the Black Fives era. This is a premier location which does two things: it really validates this genre of history, and it also allows us to make a statement with that history. It’s about 150 pieces in the exhibition. Some of the really special pieces include: a New York Rens contract from 1948 between the Rens and a player named Jim Usry, who ended up becoming the first Black mayor of Atlantic City. There’s a number of photos which have never been seen before. We have a pair of canvas and leather hand-stitched basketball shoes which were state-of-the-art at the time, they don’t even have rubber; we show a couple leather basketballs, back then they had laces, so you had to unlace the ball then inflate it with the proper pressure.

L+T: How did the Barclays Center opportunity come about? What does it mean to be able to move into that space?
The Barclays Center – before they completed it – put together a committee to install a project of cultural and historical murals and installations in the arena. They hired a curator and she somehow discovered us and these images. She was asked to present them to a committee and I was told that JAY Z was in those meetings and that he loved the images. So, I give credit to the Barclays Center but also that he was there to help with that process. There’s a special compilation of images that relate back to the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Some of these individuals we were finding were from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Bushwick. All of these players and contributors, it’s a real Brooklyn story. It’s the coolest arena in the league in my opinion, so just the fact that they’re even there makes that history relevant because the Barclays center is relevant. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the grand opening which was actually a JAY Z concert. The way that it started and the way it’s been going, it gives us an opportunity. The mayor of New York City set up a special “Black Fives Day,” we had a special halftime recognition event with about 40 descendants of the players in those photographs. We’re way below the radar, but slowly but surely, with these kinds of things, it comes out. Guess what? Next year, the all-star game is at the Barclays Center.  So, that gives another opportunity.

Find more information about Black Fives and The Black Fives Foundation here.

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