This week, Blair Academy welcomed Claude Johnson to speak on his experience with The Black Fives, an organization he founded that aims to research, preserve, showcase, and teach the pre-NBA history of African-American basketball while honoring its pioneers and descendants.
Mr. Johnson studied engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, leading him to pursue different corporate careers at companies such as IBM and American Express, which eventually secured him a job as a licensing director in the NBA. Combining his interests in reading and basketball, he was particularly intrigued by the book, The Official NBA Encyclopedia. This book provided an intensive history of basketball, however, devoted a mere 3-pages to early African American basketball. Angered, Mr. Johnson sought out on a journey of discovery with the goal of shining a light on the history of pre-NBA all-black basketball.
Hence, Mr. Johnson shares this untold history in his book: The Black Fives: The Epic Story of Basketball’s Forgotten Era. The book follows one of basketball’s most remarkable pioneers, Will Madden, whose legacy would have otherwise been non-existent. The novel opens by describing his unmarked grave and untraceable story. Johnson proceeds to follow Madden’s story and pioneering basketball career while simultaneously explaining how The Black Fives overcame adversity and dominated the pre-NBA basketball world.
Now, the Black Fives is a foundation and is the world’s leading collector of historical artifacts from the Black Fives Era, which have been exhibited at the New York Historical Society Museum. This foundation has had great success and recently created an online museum with PUMA: https://www.blackfives.org/museum/ . Mr. Johnson leaves us with his advice to “Make History Now,” urging Blair students to focus on the now and make the difference they want to see in the community.