The Evolution of the Black Fives at ‘47

Growing up in Philadelphia, my life revolved around basketball. I remember going to the Spectrum to see the Doc soar. I used to dribble up and down the block, cutting left and right to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk. My bedtime prayers were pleas for Sixers victories, a behavior handed down to me by my mom during the ’83 Finals.

As I grew, so did my love and appreciation for basketball’s history; I became captivated by the way that my city had been shaped by the pioneers of this great game. It was as a student of this history that, in 2002, I met Claude Johnson and became aware of the Black Fives, the dozens of African-American basketball teams that played between 1904 and 1950, before the formation and racial integration of the NBA. “Fives” referred to the five starting players in a basketball lineup; all-black squads were known as “Black Fives.” As executive director of the Black Fives Foundation, Claude works passionately to preserve this nearly lost period in sports and cultural history. I was immediately inspired.

’47 is deeply rooted in upholding and honoring the tradition of sport; an understanding of the importance of heritage is demonstrated in the design and development of every apparel and headwear collection. It was evident to both myself and the entire team that we had the perfect opportunity to tell the untold story of the Black Fives in an impactful way. Partnering with Claude, we decided to pioneer a lifestyle collection that would both preserve the stories of the past and inspire the legends of the future as they “make history now.”

As we began our partnership, Claude was putting the final touches on an exhibit he curated with the New York Historical Society. Enthusiastic to share his passion, he invited us down to New York City, where he gave us a detailed guided tour of the exhibit. He began his own journey toward unearthing the history of this era after reading Arthur Ashe’s A Hard Road to Glory: The History of the African-American Athlete. Now, nearly 20 years later, Claude remains dedicated to preserving the history of the Black Fives, using his research to teach, curate, and direct the Black Fives Foundation.

The Foundation maintains the largest known collection of pre-NBA African-American basketball memorabilia. We were excited to gain access to these archives, as well as use of the rare licensed marks and logos of the many teams that defined the Black Fives era. Inspired by these elements, we began to structure the details of the partnership, build a new product assortment, and determine how to best tell the story of the Black Fives.

Visit us at to see how the collection came to life.

Jared Wheeler (’47 Historian) and Claude Johnson (Black Five Foundation)

Savoy Big Five


Harlem Rens

Washington 12 Streeters

New York Renaissance players pose with Whiting, Illinois team before tipoff, as captains shake hands. “Fats” Jenkins is the New York Rens’ captain, 1939.

Advertisement for Christmas Night basketball games and dance at the Manhattan Casino (1912)