Dynamic Duo: Memorabilia & Medicine
photograph by: william taufic
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Upon entering the sprawling Greenwich home of Claude Johnson and Dr. Cassandra Tribble, you are likely to be greeted by a whirlwind of activity in the form of the couple’s three energetic boys under eight — one bouncing on the sofa, one turning cartwheels in the kitchen and another dribbling a basketball in the hallway.
The high-energy vibe suits this power couple, who are raising their sons and juggling two high-profile careers with modern flair. Cassandra is a prominent anesthesiologist who is also the director of the Sackler Pain Management Clinic at Greenwich Hospital. Claude is an entrepreneur and founder of Black Fives, a business that markets a collection of intellectual property involving the pre-N.B.A. history of African-American basketball teams.
The couple met in the early ’90s at a potluck brunch at a mutual friend’s apartment on Central Park West. “That brunch lasted all day and into the evening,” Johnson recalls. “It was June 3, 1992, to be exact; the night that Michael Jordan hit six three-pointers in a row and looked over at Magic Johnson and just shrugged his shoulders like, ‘I can’t believe it!’ I felt the same way after I met Cassandra. She walked through the door and I knew within a split second that I wanted to marry her.”
Claude and Cassandra married three years later and went on to have Cassius (“Ca$h”), age eight, Cornelius (“Core”), age seven, and Carnegie (“Car”) age three. Quips Johnson, “They all have self-appointed nicknames and symbolic icons — a dollar sign, the earth (its core) and a little car. I guess we do that, in part, because so much of my business is driven by logos and trademarks. We have fun labeling things around the house.”
While Johnson could have located Black Fives, which now earns licensing royalties from companies like Nike and Converse, almost anywhere, the couple moved up to Greenwich so that Cassandra could pursue her medical career.
Today, the boys attend public schools and their parents are involved in an array of community activities. Johnson is on the Board of Trustees of the Greenwich Public Library and mentors interns from Greenwich High School through his business. Cassandra is involved with Americares and Jack & Jill, as well as a few philanthropic causes back in Detroit, where she grew up.
When Life Throws You Lemons…
For Johnson, the turning point to his dream career came after years of working in corporate America when he took a position as vice president of marketing for Benetton Sportsystem, a post that was shortly eliminated.
Until then, Johnson had been working on Black Fives during weekends, holidays, vacation days, even sick days. “But when that Benetton severance kicked in,” he laughs, “I took that as a sign from above that now was the moment to do Black Fives full time.”
Johnson explains that first he had to prove there was a market by creating a wholesale merchandise collection. “That’s how Nike noticed us,” he says. Today, the business is focused on licensing and brand extension, including books, motivational content (the company’s slogan is “Make History Now!”), a museum exhibit, and a feature film. He smiles, “We have producer Preston Holmes (Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, Secret Life of Bees) signed on to the project, so it’s an exciting time right now.”
The home office arrangement suits Johnson well, “I’m often most productive in the middle of the night or very early in the morning,” he says, “and I just couldn’t stand leaving the house during those times to drive over to a cold, dark, empty building [the site of his former office].”
With the ability to run his company while staying connected to his sons, Johnson now has the best of both worlds. And, by dedicating his energies to an important era in African-American sports and history, he has also tapped into his roots. “As a youngster growing up in mostly white environments, I was very conscious of race and race relations and Black Pride, and the music of the early and mid-1970s, particularly during junior high school in Cincinnati, Ohio, he explains.”
The second of five children, all of whom speak fluent German and are well traveled, Johnson was greatly influenced by his parents — a black father who had a storied career as a Russian translator, actor, college professor and consultant — and a German mother. “She was what they would call a Rheinische frohnatur, which referred culturally to her looks and her uninhibited expressiveness,” he explains. “She lived through the war, bombings and poverty, and yet she loved life and was a great influence on her five kids.” Johnson says his parents didn’t attempt to influence their kids as far as careers or pursuits. “They were highly supportive of whatever we did, consequently all of us pursued our own unique path to accomplishment.”
Similarly, Johnson eloquently explains that he wants his kids to “understand how they are connected to everything in the universe; to appreciate the power of their thoughts in manifesting whatever they want to be, do, or have; to know that lasting inner wealth creates lasting outer wealth; that how they do anything is how they’ll do everything; that love always conquers fear; that we’re all the same; to look for divine gifts in every moment of every day; that giving is the key to true success; to do what they love.”