UPPER WEST SIDE — A new exhibit focusing on the first all-black basketball teams and their eventual integration into the NBA will feature a scholarship competition that asks students to explain how the sport has helped shape history.
In the early days of American basketball, which was invented in 1891, teams were called "fives" for their five starting players — leading to the "black fives" moniker for African-American teams.
The exhibit, opening in March at the New York Historical Society, examines the first all-black teams and how they helped break the color barrier that led to their integration in 1950 into the NBA. "The Black Fives" will feature newspaper clippings, photographs, historical equipment, medallions, ads, programs and souvenirs from 1900 to 1950, said Laura Washington, the Society's vice president for communications.
To engage high school students in this history, the Society is featuring its first scholarship competition, offering a $1,000 prize for essay, photography and video submissions that answer the question: "How has basketball profoundly changed New York City history, United States history, or your own personal history?"
The winners are required to use the prize money for college tuition and must be high school students from the tri-state area.
"You don’t have to be an athlete yourself, though you should be a lover of history," Washington said of the entrants, which she expects to be in the hundreds.
Curated by the Black Fives Foundation, the exhibit also focuses on New York teams, including the first black women's basketball team, the New York Girls.
"The exhibition is going to be eye-opening," Washington said. "I remember looking through a photo of a women’s basketball team from 1910. I was floored. I had no idea [the history] went back that far."
The deadline for scholarship submissions is Feb. 24 at midnight, and more details are available here.