🎉 2022 Shortlist

Black Fives Foundation Partnership

Entrant: BIG EAST Conference

  • Excellence in Black Storytelling



For Black History Month, the BIG EAST Conference partnered with the Black Fives Foundation, a nonprofit public charity whose mission is to research, preserve, showcase, teach, and honor the pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball, and hosted 22 games honoring Black athletes, coaches and communities who played a critical part in America’s basketball history. For the 22 games, the BIG EAST Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams wore the name and logo of a Black Fives Team to honor these pioneers, while coaches wore a “Make History Now” pin to draw awareness to the Foundation’s mission, and fans were educated through videos and other game time promotions on the relevance and importance of the Black Fives.

How does this represent “Excellence in Engagement”?

The genuine interest and enthusiasm around the Big East and Black Fives collaboration has set in motion conversations about continuing and growing the partnership. This was the first time that basketball programs across an entire athletic conference came together to honor this part of basketball history and showcase the impact these pioneering players had on the sport. Fans of basketball throughout the country were able to learn about the importance and history of the Black Fives through various platforms and connect the storylines of basketball and culture in a way piqued curiosity and encouraged continued education and dialogue. This initiative also created an opportunity to honor and acknowledge the many contributions of female athletes and highlight the significant impact that they had on the game of basketball. This initiative was unique because it was more than a one game promotion for fans. The Big East Conference and member schools were able to use their platform to give the Black Fives Foundation a larger audience to share the inspirational stories of the era in a way that engaged student-athletes, coaches, administrators, the student body, faculty, alumni, members of the media, and local community members.

Objective: As part of this year’s Black History Month celebration, the Big East Conference wanted to develop meaningful programming that not only celebrated its commitment to diversity and inclusion, but also tied back to its basketball-centric identity. The objective was to bring greater awareness to the contributions of African American players to the sport of basketball. To do that, the Big East partnered with an organization called the Black Fives Foundation. When basketball was founded in 1891, the sport was racially segregated like the rest of society. All-black squads called “fives”, for their five starting players, began to emerge and excel within a well-organized nationwide barnstorming circuit. Many of the Black Fives teams played in the same cities as today's Big East schools. After meeting with Founder and Executive Director of the Black Fives Foundation, Claude Johnson, the Big East soon realized that even some of the most astute basketball enthusiasts were not aware of the Black Fives Era. The Big East and Black Fives initiative included educational programming, in-arena activations at all eleven Big East member schools, promotion in 22 combined men’s and women’s basketball broadcasts with logos on warm-up shirts worn by all Big East basketball players.

Strategy & Execution: This partnership was formed to raise awareness of the Black Fives Foundation to the modern fan. The Big East Conference created video content to share on social media and in the arenas of 22 men’s and women’s basketball games during Black History Month. Knowing how the modern generation absorbs content, the Big East posted numerous times on Instagram and Twitter, as well as partnering with FOX Sports to include Black Fives content into their national TV broadcasts. Shooting shirts were created for each collegiate program in the conference, each shirt represented an original Black Fives team designs and logos. Many modern sports fans wanted to purchase the shirts on the Black Fives Foundation website and each organization knew to catch the eye of a modern sports fan with a cool and hip design to get their attention. Both organizations created this first of its kind partnership knew they needed to attract the modern sports fans and it was accomplished through incredible social content, national TV broadcasts and eye appealing attire.

Results: The work and partnership of the Black Fives Foundation and the Big East Conference was shared across a multitude of major social channels, television broadcasts and top media outlets to spotlight and raise awareness of the Black Fives. In addition to the fans who attended the games, the 22 game broadcasts had a combined TV viewership of approximately two million viewers. The first of its kind parnership was covered by a variety of sports and lifestyle outlets reaching an audience of over 21 million potential readers. Specialized outreach by the Black Fives Foundation led to the discovery of living descendants of former Black Fives players – several of whom attended Big East basketball games and were recognized in front of the crowd. The desire of student-athletes and coaches to continue educating themselves on the history of these pioneering Black Fives players was seen across several campuses. Teams were requesting one-on-one sessions with Claude Johnson to learn more about their local Black Fives teams. The promotion even piqued the interest of a Fox Sports broadcaster who mentioned on-air that he had started his own research to learn more about the Black Fives era.


BIG EAST Conference
Black Fives Foundation


Val Ackerman
BIG EAST Conference

Claude Johnson
Founder & Executive Director
The Black Fives Foundation

Stu Jackson
Executive Associate Commissioner, Men's Basketball
BIG EAST Conference

Vince Nicastro
Deputy Commissioner & Chief Operating Officer
BIG EAST Conference

Tracy Ellis Ward
Former Sr. Associate Commissioner, Women’s Basketball & Chief Diversity Officer
BIG EAST Conference

Nicole Early
Senior Associate Commissioner, Marketing & External Affairs
BIG EAST Conference

Barbara Davis
Director of Conference Operations
BIG EAST Conference

John Paquette
Senior Associate Commissioner, Communications
BIG EAST Conference

Orianna Shillow 
Basketball Operations Assistant 
BIG EAST Conference

Ben Piascik
Creative Services Coordinator
BIG EAST Conference

Pam Flenke
Associate Commissioner, Media Relations & Digital Network Services
BIG EAST Conference

Rick Gentile
Senior Associate Commissioner, Broadcasting
BIG EAST Conference

Katie Willett
Senior Associate Commissioner, SWA, Compliance, Governances & Student-Athlete Development
BIG EAST Conference

John Fanta
Digital Correspondent
Big East Conference

Bobby Mullen
Senior Director, Digital & Social Media
Big East Conference

Derek Crocker
Vice President, College Sports
FOX Sports

Geordie Wimmer
Vice President of Production
FOX Sports

Greg Christopher
Vice President for Administration, Director of Athletics
Xavier University

Ariz Matute
Marketing and External Affairs Assistant
Big East Conference



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