John Isaacs

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John Isaacs (September 15, 1915 – January 26, 2009)[1] was an African-American professional basketball player. Born in Panama but raised in New York City,[2] he was a member of the New York Renaissance, the Washington Bears, and various other teams.[3]

Life and career[edit]

Isaacs was born in 1915 in Panama to a Jamaican father and a Panamanian mother, he grew up bilingual in Harlem, speaking both English and Spanish.[4] Isaacs was a 6'1", 190 lbs. guard who led the basketball team at Textile High School (later Charles Evans Hughes High School) to a title in the 1935 New York City High School Basketball championship with all-City honors for himself. Offered a professional contract by Bob Douglas, owner of the Harlem-based, all-African American New York Renaissance basketball team, he accepted the offer, but only after getting approval from his mother.[2]

With the Rens, Isaacs led the team to season records of 122-19, 121-19, and 127-15,[2] the team won the first World Professional Basketball Tournament, held in 1939 at Chicago Stadium and sponsored by the Chicago Herald American, with the team making it to the finals by beating the Harlem Globetrotters of Chicago 27–23, to face the Oshkosh All-Stars, who lost to the Rens 34–25 in the tournament final.[5] Isaacs won a second title in 1943 with the Washington Bears, again defeating Oshkosh.[2] Isaacs scored a game-high 11 points to lead the Bears to a 43–31 win and their first title.[6] Paid $175 per month, plus expenses, to play basketball. Isaacs supplemented his professional salary with jobs on the assembly line at Grumman Aircraft and at New York Life Insurance during the off season.[4]

Isaacs played with several other all-black professional basketball teams after his time with the Rens and Bears, including the Manhattan Nationals, Hazleton Mountaineers of the Eastern Professional Basketball League, and Utica Olympics of the New York State Professional League), and in the American Basketball League with Brooklyn and Saratoga.[2] He became a coach and mentor after he retired. Chris Mullin admitted that he was one of his disciples. [7]

Long after retiring from professional sports, Isaacs won medals at the New York State Senior Games in tennis, Frisbee, softball throwing, as well as in basketball.[4]

On February 14, 2015, Isaacs was announced as a member of that year's induction class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He formally entered the Hall on September 11.[8]


  1. ^[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e Claude Johnson. "Harlem When". SLAM Magazine Online. January 26, 2009. Retrieved on January 28, 2009.
  3. ^ "John 'Boy Wonder' Isaacs". Black Fives. Retrieved on January 28, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Steptoe, Sonja. "Meet An Ageless Wonder: John Isaacs, 75, is a hero on and off the court", Sports Illustrated, December 24, 1990. Accessed January 29, 2009.
  5. ^ via Associated Press, "RENAISSANCE IN FINAL; Beats Chicagoans as Celtics Lose in Pro Basketball", The New York Times, March 28, 1939. Accessed January 29, 2009.
  6. ^ Mallozzi, Vincent M. "A Living Wonder of the Harlem Renaissance Five", The New York Times, March 9, 1997. Accessed January 29, 2009.
  7. ^ John Isaacs Career Retrospective
  8. ^ "Five Direct-Elect Members Announced for the Class of 2015 by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame" (Press release). Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. February 14, 2015. Archived from the original on February 14, 2015. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 

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