Before the Bullets, the Bears were winning on and off the court

April 13, 2013

The Post noted April 5 that, in 1978, the Washington Bullets ended a D.C. championship drought of 36 years [“The year the fat lady sang,” Sports], but much of that “drought” applied only to the all-white Washington professional teams of the 1930s and 1940s.

The city’s first pro basketball champions were the undefeated Washington Bears of 1943, an independent all-black team that won that March the annual World Professional Basketball Tournament, played by the 12 top pro teams of the year. The winners were acknowledged as world champions. Team owner Hal Jackson recalled that “we returned to a hero’s welcome.” A parade down Pennsylvania Avenue led to the White House, where President Franklin Roosevelt, in a wheelchair, presented a certificate before a big dinner.

The Bears were independent only because the pro leagues excluded black teams and players, but they defeated all comers, white professionals and amateurs alike, even the Norfolk naval team that included Red Auerbach. Charles “Tarzan” Cooper as player-coach led his team to the championship; he now is in the Basketball Hall of Fame with his teammate William “Pop” Gates.

After 70 years, this team should be remembered for winning its games on the court, and for winning its fight against the rampant racial discrimination of its times.

Vince Treacy, Washington

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