NBA superstar Russell Westbrook’s Zero World Media will follow up its 2021 History Channel production Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre with a new project on the “Black Fives” era of pre-NBA African-American basketball.
The doc will be produced in partnership with Los Angeles-based prodco Propagate Content and the non-profit Black Fives Foundation, and helmed by Tulsa Burning co-director Marco Williams, who will also executive produce with Claude Johnson, founder of the Black Fives Foundation.
From near the beginning of the 20th century to 1950, when the recently created NBA hired its first African-American players, numerous Black basketball teams competed in segregated, non-pro competition. Known as “Black Fives,” in reference to the standard five starting players on the court, these teams were barred from whites-only gyms and athletic clubs and therefore played in all manner of unorthodox locations, from church basements to dance halls.
The rising popularity of this Black sporting culture fused with the explosion of new African-American musical forms like ragtime, jazz, and blues. Enterprising promoters packaged basketball games with live performances by leading Black musicians, with hours of late-night dancing following the final buzzer.
“This important part of American history was buried in an unmarked grave, until now,” said the Black Fives Foundation’s Johnson, whose book The Black Fives: The Epic Story of Basketball’s Forgotten Era will be published in May 2022. In a statement, he added: “…The passion, insight, and perspective of Russell Westbrook, an iconic member of the NBA Family, combined with the visionary and groundbreaking storytelling talents of Propagate, create a powerful formula that unearths and shines a deserving light on its once-forgotten teams, players, and contributors as never before.”
“This subject is obviously very personal to me, for a number of reasons,” said Westbrook. “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.”