DETROIT (WXYZ) - Talent, Tenacity, and Teamwork: That’s the theme of this year’s Ford Freedom Award honoring National Basketball Association Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the little known New York “Harlem” Renaissance (Rens) all-black team of the 1920’s – 1940’s. This evening, the Rens will finally get the long overdue public recognition they justly deserve! And the once invincible team owes much or their “Johnny-come-lately fanfare to Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
In his widely-acclaimed film, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” the retired Los Angeles Lakers center, captures the amazing history of the Rens who opened the door for integration of the NBA in1950. It wasn’t an easy journey for talented African-American athletes who were discriminated against on and off the court. Abdul-Jabbar is convinced that most of today’s multi-millionaire players take their employment in the NBA for granted. That’s because the league is now 78-percent African-American, a far cry from its racial composition of six decades ago.
Tonight, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, the Rens and Abdul-Jabbar will be in the media spotlight. It will be an important reminder of how far we have advanced racial relations in America and how much further we still have to travel. Perhaps soon, “Puggy” Bell, “Tarzan” Cooper, and Zack Clayton will be as well known as Kobe Bryant, LaBron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Better late than never!
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