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This Day In History: April 25th
In a sport that consists of more than 65% Black athletes, it may surprise some fans that the NBA was not integrated until 1950. Prior to integration, several all-Black teams such as the New York Rens began to emerge and dominate the competition.
Early Black athletes paved the way for stars of today to play on an NBA court. The first Black player to break the color barrier was Charles Cooper. On April 25, 1950, Charles “Chuck” Cooper made history when he became the first African-American player to be drafted by an NBA team.
Cooper was born on September 29, 1926, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He played basketball in high school before joining the team at Duquesne University. His time playing at Duquesne put him on the radar of the Boston Celtics and in 1950, Cooper was selected as the 13th overall draft pick in the second round. The decision to pick Cooper was met with criticism but Celtics founder Walter Brown defended his choice by stating, “All I know is the kid can play basketball, and we want him on the Boston Celtics.”
The 6-foot-5-inch forward was soon joined by fellow trailblazers Earl Lloyd and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton. Despite their clear talent, the athletes were not exempt from facing racial discrimination. They were subjected to racial slurs, Jim Crow treatment and different eating and housing arrangements from their teammates.
Over the course of Cooper’s career, he played for the Harlem Globetrotters, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks, and Fort Wayne Pistons. He spent four seasons with the Celtics and ended his rookie season with an average of 9.3 points scored and 8.5 rebounds. Cooper joined the Hawks and Pistons for one season each before leaving the game completely in 1956. By the time Cooper stopped playing basketball, he had a career record that consisted of 2725 points, 2431 rebounds and 734 assists.
After retiring, he returned to Pittsburgh and worked in public service. He worked with the city’s Parks and Recreation department and Pittsburgh National Bank. Charles “Chuck” Cooper died of cancer on February 5, 1984, and was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.