John Issacs On 2005 Hall of Fame Ballot

By Off the BASN Sports Wire
Updated: February 28, 2005

GREENWICH, CT.—Pioneering professional basketball legend John Isaacs is a finalist for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2005. Isaacs is a technical advisor and spokesperson for Black Fives, Inc. The Hall of Fame, based in Springfield, Mass., made the ballot announcement last weekend in Denver at the NBA All Star Weekend. Isaacs, who played for the New York Rens, the Washington Bears, the Dayton Rens, and other pro teams from 1936 to 1948, is a finalist in the Veteran’s category, together with former NBA player Johnny Kerr.

The Hall of Fame will announce its Class of 2005 on Monday, April 4, at a news conference in St. Louis prior to the NCAA Division I National Championship. Finalists on the Hall of Fame ballot need to receive a minimum of 18 votes from the 24-member Honors Committee in order to be inducted.

John Isaacs, who was born in 1915 in Panama and raised in Harlem, was one of the earliest high school stars to jump directly to pro basketball. After leading his Textile High School varsity team to the 1936 New York City basketball championship, the fiery, powerfully built 6′-0″, 190 lb. guard signed a professional contract with Bob Douglas and his all-black Renaissance Big Five. “Before I signed,” Isaacs remembers fondly, “I first had to clear it with my mother!” The “Rens,” whose home court was the famed Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem, were already the most dominant basketball team in America; the entire 1933 team was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963.

“His playing ability and temperament fits him to become an important cog in the fast moving Rennie team,” predicted a local sportswriter of the young backcourt sensation. Indeed, Isaacs, nicknamed “Boy Wonder,” promptly led the Rens to season records of 122-19, 121-19, and 127-15, the latter season ending with a championship title in the inaugural World’s Professional Basketball Tournament in 1939. The Rens beat the all-white Osh Kosh All Stars (champions of the National Basketball League, a predecessor to today’s NBA) in the title game of the 12-team competition held in Chicago. Four years later Isaacs did it again, leading another all-black team, the Washington Bears, to the title in the 1943 World’s Pro Basketball Tournament. Isaacs also played for the Dayton Rens, which, when they joined the NBL in 1948, became the first all-black team to join a white professional league. Although the Dayton Rens only played one sea! son, they effectively broke the color barrier in pro basketball some two years prior to the subsequent NBL merger with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) that formed the NBA.

Isaacs, a pinpoint passer, often fed the ball to his teammates, Hall of Fame forwards William “Pop” Gates and Charles “Tarzan” Cooper. Isaacs, Gates, Cooper, and the Rens are credited with introducing the “motion offense” to basketball, a system later adopted by coaching greats such as Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics. The Rens played with “breathtaking precision,” according to UCLA coaching legend John Wooden. “To this day,” said Wooden in a USA Today interview in 2003, “I’ve never seen more beautiful team play than the New York Rens.” He would know; he played against them.

Isaacs retired from pro basketball in the late 1940s and has been working as a counselor and activities director at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club in the South Bronx for more than 40 years. He is a member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.