Teenie Harris, Professional Basketball Player

Photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris was a well-known athlete in his youth long before he earned his moniker of “One Shot.” In the first half of the 1920s, along with Bill Harris (no relation), he founded the Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team that would become a Negro League powerhouse. Around the same time, he was developing a reputation as an ace dribbler and fast player on the basketball court, and later as a well-respected team manager and coach. The Pittsburgh Courier newspaper would report weekly details of his actions in the game.

Among the first teams Harris gained his reputation was as captain on the Paramount A. C. basketball team that played in the 1926 city championship. Through the 1920s and early 1930s he played intermittently for the team, including brief stints on rival teams including Holy Cross and Loendi. Paramount A. C. later became the Hotel Bailey Big Five team in whose uniform he’s captured in this image by an unknown photographer.

Copy of a c. 1929–1931 photograph of Charles “Teenie” Harris in Hotel Bailey basketball uniform, with basketball on floor, in studio setting, copy created by Harris c. 1950–1970, Heinz Family Fund

In 1934, he extended his coaching skills to the local Savoy women’s basketball team whose games were described as “fast-paced.” Also at this time, when Harris was in his mid-20s, his career was at its peak with the Iron City Elks team. Chester Washington, in his sports column for the Pittsburgh Courier on March 28, 1936, describes Harris as:

“…the deceptive little scooter and dribbler, a former Paramount A. C. speedster who is not only a sterling little runner if the race grows hot and needs him, but together with Harry Beale handles the managerial reins of the antlered ponies.”

The Iron City Elks completed against teams from the greater western Pennsylvania region, east coast, and fraternities and colleges such as Wilberforce. Through his managerial skills, he was able to bring the New York Renaissance and Celtics teams to play in Pittsburgh. According to his son, Charles A. “Little Teenie” Harris:

“The greatest achievement my dad felt that he had was bringing to Pittsburgh the two best basketball teams in the world from New York—the Renaissance and the Celtics.  He never looked forward to a basketball game as much as he did when the Rens came to town.”

Harris began to get serious about photography in late 1937 and began publishing his images in Washington DC based Flash Newspicture Magazine in 1938. Consequently, he named his next basketball team “Flash.” On February 10, 1938, the New York Renaissance came to Pittsburgh to play the Pittsburgh Pirates basketball team and two days later they played Flash. Flash lost to the New York Renaissance at the Centre Avenue YMCA.

Shortly thereafter he increasingly turned his attention to coaching, including the Centre Avenue YMCA team, and formed a recreational team made up of former professional and college players named “The Old Timers” a few years later. His love of the sport and admiration for the New York Renaissance was passed on to his son. “Little Teenie” formed and captained his own teams which he named “The Rens,” and played on school teams as well.

In 1946, father and son played against each other in what his son humbly described as “basketball 101,” since the youth were so instructed (and beaten 34–22) by their elders.

Teenie’s basketball career declined by the 1950s, when his Old Timer’s team was referred by the Courier as the “’Real’ Old-timers… held together by ankle wraps and lineament.”