History of Basketball in NYC’s Chinatown
By Donald Seetoo
Basketball was invented by James Naismith to bridge the gap between baseball and football when snow covered the grounds. Today it is played all-year-round. In the old days, sports were introduced to keep kids from hanging around pool parlors and off the streets.
In the mid-1930’s a group of men calling themselves the Chinese Athletic Club (CAC) met one hour a week at the Church of All Nations at Second Ave. and Houston St. to play basketball followed by a swim in the basement swimming pool. Coach Lung Chin, Jocko Chin, and Bill Chan (of Gold Coin fame) and John Doshim, a local insurance broker, were among the early hoopsters.
As the popularity of the sport grew, so did the teams, e.g. the Chinese Basketball Club (CBC) and the Dragons (formed by the Boy Scout troop members). The Church of All Nations drew many ethnic groups to their gym. The Japanese from the West Side, Italians, Jews, Polish and etc. from the Lower East Side. At the end of each season, a tournament was held, followed by a social dance. An admission fee was charged to defray the cost of maintaining the gym program.
The war in Europe was escalating and the draft begun. With the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, many of the basketball players exchanged their colored uniforms for military khakis. The Japanese teams which were the power houses were decimated as many of the players were shipped off to concentration camps on the West Coast.
Lung Chin consolidated the CBC and the Dragons teams into one known as the CAC. Meanwhile, a group of younger teens began to use the 3rd floor gym of the Church of All Nations. Coach Lung Chin saw the possibility of a winning team. The raw athletic skills was there, but lacking the basic fundamentals. So he took time out from his family business (The Sugar Bowl Restaurant on Pell Street), and spent time to teach and coach these youngsters in the fundamental skill of basketball. How to shoot, pass, dribble, defend and set up plays in a team concept. They practiced and shored up their skills at Columbus Park on Saturday mornings, which became their second weekly practice session.
Lung also got the use of a gym at Mariners’ Temple on Oliver and Henry Sts. They learned the game well. He got some of his friends Shavey Lee (then the official mayor of Chinatown), Ruth and Fong Lee to donate money for the team’s uniforms. Shavey arranged for the team (the CAC Jrs.) to play at the Madison Square Garden during the halftime and intermission of the major events. The CAC team set a high scoring record by scoring 20 points during a ten minute intermission period.
Lung’s team went on to win the 1944-1945 PAL (Police Athletic League) Midget All-City Championship with an undefeated season of 21 games. A dinner-dance was held at the major NYC hotel and the proceeds were used to form the Chinese Community Club (CCC) at 34 Pell Street, a place where dances were held on Saturday nights for young people and GI’s during the war years and members could use the facility for other social activities such as play bridge or watch TV.
Although the CCC had three teams (Senior, Intermediate and Junior) other teams came into being. They were the Warriors, PAX, Dragons, Bengals and the Shavey Lee All-Stars, just to name a few. With the opening of the gym at True Light Lutheran church, basketball was played every night of the week. Friday night double headers and dances were regular activities enjoyed by the young people of Chinatown.
In 1948, the Chinese Inter-City tournaments began. It started between Yu-Pin R.C. Church in Philadelphia after the CCC softball team established a warm and friendly competitive relationship. Eventually other cities were invited to participate. They included cities such as Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore and a Baptist Church group from Philadelphia. A dance social followed where awards were handed out. As basketball became more popular, communities grew and, with the help from the Chinese Benevolent Association, money was raised to send teams to San Francisco and Taiwan. Thus, basketball became a major sport in NYC’s Chinatown and has continued to grow for athletes of both genders.
Danny Lee, Sept 2013
Donald’s article is a timely complement to Newton’s articles on their collective Chinatown basketball experiences and memories in the days when our community was small enough for everyone to basically know one another….. directly or indirectly…..
Both Donald and Newton were not only excellent in basketball athletic skills but excelled in cerebral endeavors also since Donald went on to become a CPA and Newton, an Ophthalmologist.
The twin towers of Gene Chu and James (Yee Gan) Moy being the tallest guys on the basketball team were exceptional also since Gene became an attorney and James is a Ph.D.
Many of us coming along a few years behind these guys and many others in the True Light crowd can easily say we were fortunate enough to have some great role models to look up to……..
Donald Seetoo’s write up augments the period that Newton was talking about basketball in Chinatown and the many fond memories.
I can still picture Newton and Donald bringing the ball up court against much taller guys from other Lutheran Church teams and dribbling right pass them or passing off to other teammates for a score…..They were like the great Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics who was famous for his skillful ball handling…….also against a lot taller players………
It brought the crowd to life in the (then) new True Light gym on the top floor……