African Americans were making moves in basketball generations before the rise of the NBA. Their pioneering efforts helped popularize the sport in big cities and small towns alike, shaping the game we know and love today.

Just after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams were called “fives” in reference to their five starting players. The sport, like society, was racially segregated, and all-Black squads were called “colored quints,” “Negro cagers,” or “Black fives.”

The sport remained divided from 1904 — when basketball was first introduced to African Americans on a wide-scale organized basis — until the racial integration of the National Basketball League in the 1940s and the National Basketball Association in 1950.

During that time, dozens of all-Black teams emerged, flourished, and excelled, staging culturally rich, socially meaningful events that strengthened Black communities in the face of Jim Crow oppression.

The period became known as the Black Fives Era.

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