Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is working on a documentary that spotlights the years of U.S. basketball known as “The Black Fives Era,” spanning from 1904 to 1950. Deadline first broke news of the enterprise, and The Black Fives Foundation is partnering with media companies Propagate Content and Westbrook’s Zero World Media production company to share this period of American sports with a wider audience.
“I’m excited to work with Propagate and The Black Fives Foundation on this project,” the 9x NBA All-Star said via the Zero World Media IG. “This subject is obviously very personal to me for a number of reasons. These teams helped break racial and societal barriers and paved the way for the game and the NBA as a whole. These stories deserve to be told and I’m proud of Zero World Media’s involvement.”
Basketball is recorded as being first introduced to African-Americans en masse as of 1904, more than a decade after the sport’s invention. However, basketball play still remained segregated throughout multiple levels, from the playgrounds to the pros. Black professional basketball flourished in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other major cities densely populated with African-Americans.
It would take 46 more years, after roundball’s initial encounter with Black America, for Earl Lloyd to become the first African-American to play in an NBA game. The term “Black Fives” is an allusion to the five starting players who would comprise professional African-American teams in the pre-integration days of professional basketball. Claude Johnson, founder and owner of Black Fives Inc., coined the term while doing research into that age of the game.
Ben Silverman, chairman and co-CEO of Propagate Content praised the contribution of the Black Fives in his press statement. “Propagate is dedicated to telling culturally impactful stories that both entertain and educate,” he said along with co-CEO Howard T. Owens. “The Black Fives laid the foundation for the modern game of basketball that we know and love today.”
Moviemaker Marco Williams will also be involved with the project as an executive producer and director. Williams and Westbrook teamed up for last year’s award winning documentary Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre. Williams also worked with Claude Johnson on a 2014 short film called The Black Fives, and in partnership with The New York Historical Society.
“I knew then what Claude has always known, there is a more expansive story to be told. Now is that time,” Williams said. “I am also excited to reunite with Russell on a new film. Our effort to bring the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race massacre to a wider audience was a bona fide success… I have been dedicated to telling untold, hidden and buried American stories my entire career. This project aligns with our collective mission and is a slam dunk for us.”