From the moment the New York Renaissance took precedence over others Black Fives in the mid-twenties, the major dates that punctuate their seasons are those of confrontations against the Original Celtics. Matches that act as a transfer of power between the men at clover and those of Harlem. A story tinged with a relationship against the racial prejudices of the time.
Also read: New York Renaissance vs Original Celtics – part 1: the first African-American success
The Original Celtics remain the bosses
On the bridge first – as early as the 1910s, the Celtics were logically on the front of the stage before the Rens. They also participate greatly in the popularization of basketball during their tours across the country in the 1920s. As in addition they validate their journeys by titles within the leagues they attend – Eastern Basketball League in 1922, American Basketball League in 1927 and 1928 – their status as the best team of the time can hardly be discussed.
However, this domination was challenged with the emergence of the New York Renaissance. In the thirties, the balance of power shifts in favor of the Black Five. What Joe Lapchick recognized, the inside of the C’s, as his son reports:
I grew up hearing that the Celtics were the greatest team of all time. My father’s friends said that and all our neighbors said that. But he would correct them and say, “The Rens were about as good as we were at the start and they were better than us at the end.”
The New York Renaissance must confirm
The Rens’ first victory over the Celtics in 1925 does not knock the men at clover from their throne of the best team in the world. On the contrary. If the guys from Harlem have recovered ground on the Celts with more contested matches, the balance of power remains in favor of the greens. The proof ? When it comes to facing each other after the ABL season ended in 1927 – a competition in which the Rens do not participate – it is indeed the Celtics who win two sets to nil. They remain the bosses, despite their defeat at the start of the season.
The Renaissance therefore know what they have to do: wait and work hard to reverse the trend. Until 1929 inclusive, this is still not the case, the series unofficially crowning the boss of basketball in the USA always ending up in the hands of the Celts. However, a change is pointing the tip of his nose. Faced with the domination of the C’s, the ABL decides to dissolve the team by sending the players to different franchises in the league.
The New York Renaissance finally take over
The adventure does not end however, the Celtics reuniting once the season is over. Both to put a little butter in the spinach, but above all for the pleasure of playing together. And in their calendar, fitting matches against the Rens is an obligation. On the one hand to rub shoulders with the best. On the other, because these interracial meetings are a guarantee of large crowds. And therefore substantial cash inflows – for both teams.
As the C’s age, the classic turns more and more in favor of the New York Renaissance. The Rens become the bosses. In the 1930s, when the Globetrotters are not yet the phenomenon they will become, the Celtics are still the only team that can compete with the Black Five in terms of popularity. But over time, age weighs more and more on organisms. The C’s gradually disappear from the top of the bill in the second half of the decade
The Original Celtics hang on
In the meantime, they play the spoilsports and come to question the domination of their rivals, as during the best season of the men of Bob Douglas in 1932-33. While they complete the exercise with a record of 120 wins for 8 defeats, the itchy hair dresses well in green. The Celtics thus put an end to the series of 88 consecutive successes of the Rens that season. And of the eight losses of the Harlem players, six are conceded against the Clubs. All the confrontations are still won 8 to 6 by the Black Five. The additions of Charles “Tarzan” Cooper and Bill Yancey definitely turned the tide in the Rens direction.
These numerous meetings attract crowds. Become classics. Because if the Celtics have begun their sporting decline, it is not the case for the moment concerning their notoriety. So much so that the two teams are considering going on tour together. Ultimately the project failed. fear of reactions and possible problems in certain states. But that does not prevent Celtics and Rens from facing each other away from their New York neighborhoods as opportunities arise.
How to deal with segregation?
From these meetings are born a real esteem and a friendship between the players. These matches, these tours outside of New York fill the coffers. They also offer the Celtics the opportunity to see what their rivals endure in terms of racismthough they certainly had no doubts about the Rens’ treatment.
The Rens often had to sleep on their bus because the hotels didn’t want them. They traveled by bus because many other means of transport did not accept them. They ate on their bus when restaurants refused to serve them – Richard Laphick.
Even before those trips, segregation crept into the relationship between the Celtics and the Black Five. When the ABL was created in 1925, the C’s were logically invited. What they refuse. Some then speak of an ideological choice, their rivals Rens not being in the game, the league not being integrated. The reality is certainly to be qualified, the opposition between the two teams being only at its beginnings. It is probably more a question of business to be able to keep a certain freedom and thus maximize profits.
They also joined the ABL the following season, without the competition changing its position on integration. Great lords, the leaders tolerate all the same that the franchises can face the New York Renaissance in the middle of their calendar. History to fill the rooms and boxes. An illustration of the hypocrisy of the times.
Opponents on the courts, allies outside
An attitude that evolves in the Celtics as they play against the Rens. Players get to know each other. Pop Gates remembers, for example, that African-Americans knew very well that Dutch Dehnert was not against a small drink before the meetings. They made him pay for this pleasure by punching him in the stomach to make him vomit. And thus reduce its impact. Above all, the C’s understand the difficulties that punctuate the life of the Black Five.
My father discovered racism in America through the rivalry with the Rens. there were three times they left together to go where they needed to go to play the next day, the Celtics behind the Rens bus, watching the gas station manager walk out with a gun because he didn’t count spun the gasoline of his white-beak pumps to a group of blacks in a bus. There were riots in three of the games, all in the Midwest and none in the South. They had to play games with a net around them to prevent spectators from storming the pitch. –Richard Lapchick
In their own way, the Celtics are showing that for them there is no difference. This is what the boss of the New York Renaissance, Bob Douglas, remembers:
When we played against most white teams, we were men of color. Against the Celtics, we were men. Over the past few years, a real fraternity has been born from competitions and journeys.
He emphasizes in particular the role of Joe Lapchick who does not hesitate to intervene in favor of the Rens :
Lapchick was a good man. Once, when we were playing against the Celtics, we told my coach Eric Illidge that we would pay him by check. Lapchick said, “no, pay him cash.”
The Celtic player knew very well that the check could be bad and that it was a method to put a carrot on African Americans. Later, while coaching the Knicks in BAA, he even gives a favorable opinion for the Rens to join the League. Without success.
Counter-current marks of respect
Unfortunately, not everyone shares Joe Lapchick’s vision. His attitude disturbs in this segregated America. As mentioned by his son, the fame of the two teams and the multiplication of their confrontations are not guarantees of calm. Some matches are followed by race riots. The police intervene to allow the two teams to leave the scene. Depending on the state, matches are played in doubles. For the white crowd on the one hand. Then for the black crowd next.
In this fight against discrimination, the C’s position themselves as allies, even if it means assuming the consequences.
My dad and Tarzan Cooper became known for, at the start of games, not shaking hands like a lot of players do before the jump ball, but hugging and sometimes kissing. They wanted the fans in the stands to know that the Celtics and Rens, like Bob Douglas’ philosophy, were playing a game he imagined was the future of America. -Richard Lapchick.
Inevitably, the crowd is not always of this opinion. This mark of affection turns against Lapchick and his family. Critics, death threats, expulsion from their hotel. Like at the end of the twenties, on the side of Louisville in Kentucky, a place not very famous for its openness on racial questions at the time. As the Rens are about to start their meeting, they notice the presence of the Celtics in the stands because their tour also took them to the area. Bob Douglas goes back to the past:
Joe Lapchick, who knew our pivot Tarzan Cooper, came down from the bleachers and hugged Cooper because he was happy to see him. There was silence in the room. We were in Jim Crow country. And the races were strictly separated. The Celtics were kicked out of their hotel and a riot was narrowly avoided.
Through their confrontations and respectful rivalry, the New York Renaissance and the Original Celtics have worked modestly but proudly to advance the issue of race in sports. But also in society. As in addition the two formations reigned over the orange ball between 1920 and 1940, it is easy to understand that they find themselves side by side in the Hall of Fame. And when you know how hard Joe Lapchick pushed – along with Ned Irish – for the Rens induction into the Pantheonwe can only salute the role of the Celtics in changing mentalities.