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Abdul-Jabbar's documentary tells an unknown story

By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor

I was expecting the same old typical story of race in the first half of the twentieth century that I would hear or see during Black History month when I went to the Student Center Theater to see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's "On the Shoulders of Giants."

I could not have been more wrong.

My only regret about this documentary was that there were not more people in the theater to see the story of the Harlem Renaissance (a.k.a. Rens), which truly is the greatest team you have never heard of.

After watching the one hour and fifteen minute condensed version of the team's history that spanned from 1923-1949, what I grew up to learn about African Americans in sports was wrong.

I always thought the Negro Baseball League was the first chance for African Americans to play organized sports, but the fantastic efforts of Abdul-Jabbar and guest speakers ranging from NBA Commissioner David Stern to Civil Rights Activist Rev. Al Sharpton revealed just how important the Rens were to an entire community.

We may think a team such as Butler can captivate a nation, but the Rens carried the same, if not more importance than Jesse Owens' historic performance in the 1936 Olympic Games, Joe Louis' famous bout with Max Schmeling and Jackie Robinson's integration of Major League Baseball in 1947.

This team was nothing short of revolutionary and the circumstances they played under made this story even more inspiring.

I had a pretty good idea about how some current athletes are primadonnas, but I could honestly say not many NBA ballers would be able to keep up with the Rens, who would sometimes play eight games in seven days and played upwards of 140 games in a season.

Being able to succeed under the terrifying times of racism makes this group of men into legends. I have no idea how these men were able to handle such bigotry, but just watching some of the hardships this team went through made me sick.

What I can bring up is the question of why I really have not heard of this team before. I think I'm a pretty big sports buff when it comes to the history of all games, but there was most definitely an eyebrow raised through a majority of the piece.

Who is there to blame? Do I blame basketball historians for focusing so much on the game's explosion in popularity during the 1980s or do I blame us for not taking notice of something so extraordinary? Well, maybe it's a little bit of both and then some.

So if you have the means, take out 75 minutes of your time and learn something about a group of young men that transcended the lines of color in a time where your skin meant everything.

The Dorm Room Dish

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