‘Grandfather of Black Basketball’ to Be Enshrined This Fall
By Drew Costley
Falls Church’s Edwin Henderson was walking his dog, trying to clear his head, when he checked his e-mail on his phone. What he found signaled victory in an eight-year battle to get his grandfather, Dr. E.B. Henderson, honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
A Washington Wizards employee sent an e-mail to Edwin Henderson congratulating him, but for what? Sports journalist David Aldridge cleared things up in a tweet he sent out saying it was great to see E.B. Henderson’s selection to the hall of fame.
“I kind of felt like Rocky after eight years of trying,” Edwin said. “And all of a sudden, we have been thrust into the limelight. But it’s taken a lot of hard work to get to here.”
Today, E.B. Henderson is known as the “Grandfather of Black Basketball.” But until recently, his contributions were only known by basketball scholars and sports fanatics.
Edwin initiated the campaign to get his grandfather inducted into the hall of fame in 2005.
“We had heard and seen people that had gotten in, and we decided that E.B. Henderson had been passed over for far too long,” Edwin said.
Nikki Graves Henderson, Edwin’s wife, helped with compiling a packet of documents chronicling E.B. Henderson’s involvement in basketball, with endorsements from basketball aficionados, historians, and celebrities.
In 2006, the Hendersons sent in the compilation, a 138-page document detailing E.B. Henderson’s importance to the early history of the game and an accompanying video, to all 28 board members of the hall of fame, but heard nothing back.
E.B. Henderson was introduced to the game of basketball in 1904 at Harvard University during a summer physical training class for gym teachers, according to the hall of fame’s press release announcing his selection. E.B. Henderson was around 21 years old. Basketball was only 12.
Once Henderson returned to Washington, D.C., he introduced the game to his black students. In the years following his trip to Harvard, he became integral to organizing athletics and coaching basketball for black athletes in the region. He started the first athletic conference for African-Americans – the Interscholastic Athletic Association – in 1909 and co-edited the Spalding Official Handbook from 1910-13. The Interscholastic Athletic Association allowed African-American youth along the East Coast to compete against each other. He coached the 12th Street Colored YMCA basketball team to the 1909-10 Black National Title and the Colored Basketball World’s Championship title in 1910-11.
Dr. Henderson, a chiropractor, and his wife, Mary Ellen Henderson, were stalwarts in Falls Church, starting the first rural branch of the NAACP in the City. E.B. and Mary Ellen were both educators and civil rights activists who battled the City’s segregation efforts. The City’s middle school, where George Mason High School teams currently play their basketball games, is named after Mary Ellen.
Edwin and Nikki also financed a video to tell E.B. Henderson’s story. At certain points, Nikki interviewed subjects in the video in place of Beverly Lindsay-Johnson, the Emmy-winning producer for WHUT-TV who helped the Hendersons make the documentary.
After they sent the initial package in and heard nothing back, Nikki would call annually to check up on E.B.’s nomination, which automatically renewed every year after 2005, when he was first nominated. Every year since then, Edwin and Nikki would check the announcement of the hall of fame class to see if it included Edwin’s grandfather. This year, when he was selected to the hall of fame, Nikki said neither she nor Edwin were paying attention to the announcement.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Nikki said. “I was just really surprised.”
Edwin and Nikki’s victory lap began in early April when they traveled to Atlanta for the announcement of the 2013 hall of fame inductees. Nikki said NBA star Gary Payton, a fellow 2013 hall of fame inductee, came over and voiced his appreciation of E.B. Henderson’s contributions to basketball.
“It was like being in basketball heaven,” said Edwin, a self-described “sports fanatic.”
E.B. Henderson will be officially enshrined in the hall of fame Sept. 8 in Springfield, Massachusetts.