From all the hoopla surrounding the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets to the new Barclays Center, one would think that they are the first significant basketball team the borough has ever seen.

Not so. Brooklyn was home to a historic basketball first, way back in 1906, when the the Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn, an African American social and sports organization, launched the first formally organized and independently run all-black basketball team.

The team, nicknamed the Grave Diggers because of their on-court dominance, played their first game in 1907 as part of a dynamic all-black Olympian Athletic League.

The Smart Set Brooklyn Basketball Team

The Smart Set Brooklyn Basketball Team


It was the beginning of the Black Fives Era, the period of prior to the racial integration of the National Basketball Association, during which dozens of all-black teams emerged and thrived in New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

Smart Set basketball games included music and dancing until well past midnight. “Never in the history of Brooklyn, has such a galaxy of colored persons assembled under one roof,” exclaimed the New York Age, a leading African American newspaper, one such event.

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