Inside Stories

Bucky Lew: Lowell’s Basketball Pioneer

by Chris Boucher

Bucky Lew deserves to be more than a footnote. While he is recognized as basketball’s first Black professional player, he achieved much more than that. In a career that spanned roughly 25 years, he was the first Black pro player, coach,  head referee, and even owner, all in otherwise white leagues.

And it happened here in Lowell. He even coached a year at Textile College, now UMass Lowell.

Bucky got his start at the Lowell YMCA in 1899 where he captained several Merrimack Valley championship teams. When the Y defeated MIT in a stunning upset, the budding rocket scientists concluded his squad might be the best amateur team in the state.

Next Lew jumped to the pros, signing with the Pawtucketville Athletic Club of the young New England Basketball League in 1902. A crowd favorite, his games drew up to 2,000 in old Huntington Hall downtown. With gambling a big part of the experience, Lowell fans seemed more concerned with the color green than Black or white.

Of course, Bucky had his share of troubles on the road. A Hudson newspaper called him his owner’s “colored valet.” He heard worse not fit for print. A New Bedford crowd tried to shout him off the floor. He was denied lodging in New Hampshire. The game’s best player, Harry Hough, refused to play against him in Haverhill.

The tension often extended onto the court. He had to leave one game after being kicked in the stomach and another after sustaining a gash that required stitches. He dislocated both shoulders multiple times. One of his granddaughter Wendy’s persistent memories is seeing him sitting in his favorite chair wearing a tank top and rubbing his exposed shoulders.

But if you know anything about the Lews, you know Bucky wasn’t about to give up. Instead, he gave it right back. In one game, where the foul limit was lifted, he had 10 fouls. Yet he wasn’t viewed as a dirty player in the rugged game. On November 29, 1902, a Lowell Sun reporter quoted a colleague who described it this way: “Basketball, in short, combines all the exciting elements of boxing, wrestling…football, murder, and a house on fire.”

In such a game, Lew was actually known as a gentleman and a clean player. Perhaps the Lowell Courier-Citizen said it best on December 12, 1902: “Lew is a gentle little man to look at, but when the whistle blows, he becomes a whirlwind.”

While he experienced racial strife, he experienced allyship too. Fans and teammates supported him as did the press. Papers in Lowell, Boston, Haverhill, and even Vermont spoke glowingly of him, where he was dubbed “The Original Bucky Lew.”

With a flair for the dramatic, he became known for his unique style of play, stunning half-court shots, an impossible-to-steal handle, and an unusual passing style where, when he had no other options, he directed the ball to an open spot on the court and beat everyone else to it.

Bucky played a year for the Lowell PAC, then two more with Haverhill. When the NEBL folded, he formed his own team, the Lowell Five, and barnstormed in a borrowed Packard throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

He drew on Lowell’s various ethnic groups to staff his team. Players of Irish, French-Canadian, Greek, German, and Jewish descent played with the Five. He earned the respect of his peers as both a player and an executive and played on for nearly a quarter century, finally retiring in 1926.

Despite these incredible accomplishments, and the extensive coverage of them at the UML’s Center for Lowell History and the online version of the Lowell Sun available through the Pollard Library, the only public recognition of Lew is the shared “Lew Family Square” street sign on John Street in downtown Lowell.

In an effort to improve things, I’ve written Bucky’s first biography. I’m also running a promotion with the Lowell YMCA where they will match my proceeds from the first 50 sales of the book to fund a plaque for placement at the Y.

“The Original Bucky Lew: Basketball’s First Black Professional” is coming soon to local bookstores. It is available now on all platforms and at Amazon here:

Chris Boucher lives north of Boston with his wife and near his sons and grandson. He is passionate about basketball, learning, and writing. While his hoops skills remain on the amateur side, he has put in the work to earn master’s degrees in education and creative writing to improve there. You can find him online at

10 responses to “Bucky Lew: Lowell’s Basketball Pioneer”

  1. Eric Burgess says:

    This is terrific. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the response! I hadn’t heard of Bucky until fairly recently so I’m happy to help get the word out.

  3. Rob Mitchell says:

    Thank you for sharing! It’s a great story and definitely, one that we don’t showcase/highlight as part of our city story….great job!

  4. You’re welcome and thanks! Hopefully the plaque at the Y will be the first of many honors for Bucky in Lowell…

  5. I have good news! We reached our goal today. Thanks all! Can’t wait to see the memorial plaque in Lew’s honor at the Lowell YMCA!

  6. Mike D says:


    Thank you. Looking forward to reading this. I teach history. Please reach out if you have time b/c I have an idea we worked on in class for Bucky Lew.

  7. Mike, thanks for your response, I’m happy to help, my email address is chris (at)

  8. Esa says:

    Kudos, Chris! Your article on Bucky Lew is brilliant. Celebrating his trailblazing journey and honoring his historic impact in just a few words is truly impressive. Keep up the great work! 🏀👏

  9. Thanks Esa and everyone else! To close this thread out, I just wanted to mention that the Lew family came to Lowell earlier this month to unveil a plaque in his honor at the Lowell Y. If you want to know more, I did a quick blog post on it here:“bucky”-lew-finally-honored

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *